HARTFORD— The UConn men’s basketball team toted a four-game losing streak into Sunday’s clash with UCF at the XL Center in Hartford, and the path to stopping that slide seemed like an uphill climb. The Knights, much improved over last year’s squad under first-year head coach Johnny Dawkins, entered Sunday with the nation’s second-best scoring defense, holding opponents to just 57.1 points per game.
Surprisingly, the Huskies (6-9, 1-3 The American) were more than up to the challenge, as they rode a wave of whip-sharp ball movement and some quality shooting to a 64-49 over UCF in Hartford, avoiding a dreaded 0-4 start in American Athletic Conference play.
“I really thought our offense came alive. I think [UCF is] the top defensive team in the country, and for us to get 47 percent shooting against those guys, and really move the basketball and execute on the offensive end…I really believe that was our complete game, and now we just got to keep doing that,” head coach Kevin Ollie said after the game.
Right from the tip, the Huskies attacked the Knights’ zone with a proficiency the likes of which we haven’t seen all season long. Under the command of willing and able pilot Jalen Adams, who ran the point, UConn was able to penetrate the defense and consistently find open shooters.
“The ball moves faster than the defense, Coach keeps preaching that over and over,” Adams said. “I think today it finally stuck in there and people just bought into the game plan, and it worked pretty well for us.”
Adams racked up a team-leading seven assists while also adding 10 points, including a couple of nimble finishes around 7-foot-6 rim protector Tacko Fall, who anchors the UCF defense. A number of players had success against Fall, including UConn center Amida Brimah, who stands at seven feet and looked small by comparison.
“I thought he did a wonderful job staying in the game, not getting silly fouls and playing 29 minutes,” Ollie said of Brimah’s performance.
Brimah tallied up nine points, six rebounds and five blocks, while helping to hold Fall scoreless with just two rebounds. Fall entered the game ranked second in the nation in field goal percentage, while also averaging a double-double.
“This game was marked on the calendar, so I just came out aggressive and started playing aggressive from the tip of the game,” Brimah said. “That’s a good matchup for me, it’s a game for me to get better, so I just came out ready to play.”
With Brimah, helped by power forward Kentan Facey (eight points, nine rebounds), occupying the attention of Fall in the paint, the Huskies seemed more willing to attack into the teeth of the defense, which opened up the floor for everyone.
Freshmen Vance Jackson, Christian Vital and Juwan Durham all hit multiple field goals, while senior guard Rodney Purvis finally had the sweet shooting night that has eluded him. Purvis shot 7-for-13, including a 3-for-7 mark from three-point range, on his way to a team-leading 17 points.
“In recent games, I kind of been forcing it a little bit, because I wasn’t able to get the looks that I really wanted, but today I knew I was gonna come in patient and just try to be ready for the open shots,” Purvis said.
Combine that offensive fluidity with a complete, attentive performance on the defensive side of the ball, and the end result was an unlikely rout that should help stabilize UConn in this trying season. With eligible recruit Hamidou Diallo electing Saturday to attend Kentucky, no help is on the way. The Huskies must try to win with the guys they have, and try to win together.
“These are the same players that we got. Chris Paul didn’t show up, James Harden didn’t show up, this the same players,” Ollie said, laughing. “We started moving the basketball. This is what we’ve been preaching, we got some shots to go in. You can’t be selfish, you can’t say ‘Oh, we having a bad season, I’m just gonna get my numbers’ – we’ve got to play as a team. This is not a bad season, it’s a character-building season, we going to just keep performing. I still believe that we have enough in here to win games."