HARTFORD – A putrid start Sunday night at the XL Center put the UConn men’s basketball team 8-1 down to the Boston University Terriers after five minutes, invoking memories of a near upset loss to the Terriers last season.
Sophomore guard Christian Vital, who had struggled mightily in the first two games of the year, made sure there was nothing to worry about this season, scoring 17 first half points and making his presence felt on the defensive end on the way to a career night, guiding the Huskies to an 85-66 win over BU.
“CV really played a great game,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said. “I know he got 30 points, but out of our 14 deflections, he got seven of them. He was all over the place and I think that led to him having a good game. He took it to the basket, did things he wasn’t doing in the first game, in the second game.”
Vital, who came off the bench as UConn’s sixth man, was called upon relatively early as the team struggled to get going. Aside from an Alterique Gilbert free throw, the Huskies couldn’t buy themselves a bucket in the first five minutes of the game, starting out 0-9 from the field.
“When CV plays hard, the ball just finds energy. It just finds energy and that’s what it did tonight,” Ollie said.
And eventually, Vital gave the ball some energy and brought UConn back to life, nailing a 3-pointer five-and-a-half minutes into the game to cut the Huskies’ deficit to 8-4. After that, the sophomore guard from Queens, New York caught fire, hitting 9-15 field goals in the first half, including 4-10 from beyond the arc.
“I was in a little bit of a slump the first two games, stats don’t lie,” Vital said. “But I was able to just relax, sit down, talk to my support system, talk to God a little bit too, just focus on the right things, get my mind back on track and then I was able to help the team tonight.”
Vital quieted down early in the second half, but picked it right back up again and finished with a game-leading 30 points, a career-high, in 26 minutes of action.
“He just played hard,” Ollie said. “I think he just came out there. We talked, we had a good talk in my office and he was just like, ‘I gotta be humble, I gotta come out and play my game. I can’t force things and that’s what he did and I’m very proud of him.”
Something that has greatly troubled the Huskies in recent years is their ability, or lack thereof, to rebound the ball effectively and to do so consistently.
That was no issue in Sunday night’s game as UConn used its size and athletic advantage to significantly outrebound the Terriers 52-32. Even better was the Huskies’ ability to clean up on the offensive glass, as they earned 16 offensive boards, giving them several second chance opportunities.
“(Offensive rebounding) was an emphasis (in practice), but the biggest emphasis was our tempo,” Ollie said. “I don’t know when the last time we got 17 fast break points. We wanted to get the tempo up, we wanna get that to 20.”
By nearly doubling BU’s rebounding totals on both ends of the floor, UConn showed that it has the capability to dominate on the glass, albeit against a much shorter and less athletic team. With those kinds of numbers, though, you’d expect to see better results against bigger teams in the future.
“David (Onuorah) stepped up and had a big rebounding game…,” Ollie said. “I thought our guards did a good job of crashing back in (for boards). And CV led that. He led it with effort.”
Next up, the Huskies travel to Portland, Oregon to participate in the PK80 Tournament, where they will meet Oregon in a first round matchup.