Men's Basketball: Huskies start conference play against formidable foe Houston

Rodney Purvis battles an Auburn defender with the help of Amida Brimah (35) during the Huskies' 70-67 overtime loss on Friday, Dec. 23 at the XL Center in Hartford. UConn returns to action there on Wednesday, Dec. 28 where they begin conference play against Houston. (Jackson Haigis/The Daily Campus)

With nonconference play behind them, the UConn men’s basketball team looks to essentially hit the restart button on their season when they begin conference play against Houston (9-3) on Wednesday.

Following their 70-67 overtime loss to Auburn on Friday, Rodney Purvis, who had to take command as the only guard on the floor for most of the overtime period, said that the season is essentially split into three parts, meaning nonconference play, conference play and tournament play.

With the Huskies putting an easily avoidable 5-6 record behind them, Kentan Facey told it straight following the team’s Tuesday practice, saying that with the position UConn is in, the opponent doesn’t even matter at this point.

“Houston is always pretty good; especially when we go out there, they always seem to have some extra juice. But coming in here, we’re desperate for wins now, so we don’t care who it is, we’re just going to come out and try to play our style of basketball and try to win games,” Facey said.

These days, it’s hard to tell what UConn’s style of basketball is. Two games ago in a rout against North Florida, Facey had 20 points, Amida Brimah had 11 and Steven Enoch had seven in a game where both the guards and the bigs meshed together to spread the scoring distribution much more evenly. The guards were able to drive or hit jumpers when they saw the opportunity, but they also played with enough discipline to know when their shots were bad and created more scoring opportunities by passing to the bigs and letting them handle the post. 

Against Auburn, Facey had 15, Brimah had six and Enoch had eight points, but the team chucked up 28 3-pointers and only made four, whereas against North Florida, the team made as many 3-pointers on only nine attempts.

Head coach Kevin Ollie was, unsurprisingly, not impressed by that number. His team is second to last in the American standings going into conference play, but as always, Ollie looks at everything game-by-game. With Jalen Adams (concussion, laceration) being a game-time decision, Ollie has had to tweak practice slightly, not being able to do five-on-five without their star guard.

However, his focus is primarily on controlling the trio of Houston’s top performers: Rob Gray, who averages 20.1 points per game and is second in the conference in scoring; Damyean Dotson, a big rebounder who averages 7.2 rebounds per game and 14.8 points per game, and Galen Robinson Jr., who leads the American with 68 assists.

“Whenever I look at a team, I look at the point guard, and then the starters. And we gotta do a real good job on [Robinson Jr.],” Ollie said. “He hasn’t been shooting a lot of threes, but he gets to the basket.”

Houston, like many other teams, have a big edge on the Huskies: their free-throw percentage. The Cougars make 72.9 percent of their shots from the charity stripe, while the Huskies sit dead last in the conference with a percentage of 62.7. Houston has the overall offensive advantage as well, averaging 80.5 points per game while UConn averages 67.8.

Beyond the arc, Houston also leads the American with 42.9 percent of shots made. The Huskies have shown major improvements in their defense as of late, especially their perimeter defense. The Cougars are not the best rebounding team, and with UConn still looking to crash the glass more, they are getting a good chance to improve.

UConn and Houston will square off at the XL Center in Hartford tomorrow. Tipoff is slated for 3 p.m. ET and will be televised on ESPN2. 


Stephanie Sheehan is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus, covering men’s basketball. She can be reached via email at stephanie.sheehan@uconn.edu. She tweets @steph_sheehan.