HARTFORD— When it was announced that Jalen Adams would be out for today’s game against Houston, most probably wondered if UConn was going to be able to keep themselves out of foul trouble long enough to rotate through only seven players.
Well, be careful what you wish for. The UConn men’s basketball team put on no stellar performance, getting trounced 62-46 against the Cougars at the XL Center. There was no offense, weak defense, and worst of all, there may not have been a whole lot of fight.
“This is the first game where I just really felt we didn’t have the enthusiasm on the defensive end, the effort on the defensive end,” head coach Kevin Ollie said. “We just gotta get better. We can’t give up 52 percent [shooting], especially the way we’ve been playing defense, where we’ve been trying to keep ourselves in games with defensive intensity.”
All game, UConn had no answers for Houston’s defense. Not only did they find themselves down 18-8 after 13 minutes, but they made only three shots from the floor—two field goals and one 3-pointer on 14 attempts. They had three other points from free throws.
It was like the Huskies couldn’t find the net even if it was right in front of them (which it was). So many jumpers either fell short, bounced straight off the rim or rolled right over. There was no penetration. They couldn’t execute basketball basics. Everybody on the floor just dribbled around until the shot clock forced them to get rid of it.
“They were doubling every time we got the ball inside,” Ollie said. “Our bigs were turning the ball over, but they weren’t going to let us play in the post. They kinda saw where we were producing some points, and they took that away and they put it back on Rodney and our guards to make plays, and we just couldn’t do enough of that today.”
It wasn’t like Houston was blowing the door off the place either. Coming into the game as third in the nation in 3-point percentage at 42.9 percent, they only shot 3-for-11 from beyond the arc in the first half and 5-for-20 overall.
But they didn’t need to have a perfect day from three. Instead, they did something in the first 15 minutes that the Huskies have failed to do all season—see the opponent’s weakness and exploit it for everything it’s worth.
Today’s UConn specialty, as Ollie said, was bad defense. The Cougars cut through UConn’s low post defense like butter, and sometimes there wasn’t even a UConn man there playing defense. Houston shot 14-for-26 (53.8 percent) from the floor in the first half, and put together a 15-0 run in the last five minutes to make their nine point lead a 22-point lead.
Houston’s Rob Gray, who averages 20 points per game, lived up to his statistic and put in 20 against UConn. He did something that escapes most UConn players these days—he made layups and hit jumpers. As a team, the Cougars finished the day shooting 52.2 percent from the field.
“In the last couple games, we’ve been holding teams down to 30, 36 percent, so that’s a big part of the reason why we lost today because we weren’t able to keep their percentage lower than 53 percent. Next game, we gotta regroup,” Christian Vital said.
On the flip side, UConn scored 12 points in the first 20 minutes. According to ESPN, it was the second-fewest point total in a half since 1980, and certainly the lowest in the Kevin Ollie era. They went eight minutes without scoring, then after a three-point play, went the last five minutes with nothing but a single foul shot. That’s incomprehensibly bad.
The Huskies hung on in the second half. They outscored Houston, but with a 24-point deficit coming into the final 20 minutes, that doesn’t mean much. It was clear that UConn sort of gave up with 10 minutes to go. It was impossible to mount a run when the defense wasn’t there, and they knew it. They had absolutely no answers.
Who do you blame? How can you explain it?
Rodney Purvis couldn’t command the floor. As the top senior guard, it’s his job to take the floor, call the plays and be aggressive. He didn’t do that. He went 5-for-16 from the floor and 1-for-7 from three. He has only made two 3-pointers in his last 20 attempts going back to last game.
Amida Brimah went 1-for-4 from the floor, and it was almost like he dipped his hands in hot butter before the game. I don’t like to point fingers at freshmen, especially being thrusted into the thick of it when they didn’t expect to be playing more than 20 minutes per game, but Vital and Vance Jackson almost looked lost. Houston’s double-team almost sent them into panic mode every time they caught the ball.
“I think we just made shots in the second half. I got a wide-open look in the corner, Vance got a couple open looks, the bigs had their normal looks, you know, hook shots and stuff like that, and they just didn’t fall in the first half,” Vital said. “Sometimes that’s how it goes, honestly. We just gotta do a better job of making them when they come.”
Up until this point, the Huskies seemingly had only one redeeming quality to them—they fought, and they fought hard. Down by 11 points to a long-time rival? Rally back and win the game. Can’t make a shot in the last five minutes of the game? Score four in 30 seconds to force overtime. With only seven players to work with at this point, all UConn can do is fight.
But I didn’t see that today, Ollie didn’t see that today, and I’m sure the other 11,538 at the XL Center didn’t either. They are starting to lose their identity, and without an idea of who they are or who they’re supposed to be, they’ll fall too deep to save themselves or their season.
Conference play is just beginning, and it’s really not too late to fix things. The only way the Huskies can survive this season without destroying everything is if they put their life on the line every single game, make their fight their identity and let other teams know that UConn is never out of it. Hopefully they can figure it out quickly—they play another game in three days.