Going on the road after their most convincing win of the year against USF, the UConn Huskies men’s basketball team took on the UCF Knights in a Conflict matchup in Orlando, Florida Saturday evening.
The last time these two teams played this season, the Huskies came out on top with an incredible defensive performance, winning 64-49 at the XL Center on Jan. 8. Saturday’s matchup turned out to be a much closer game and much more stressful for UConn as they won by a score of 66-63 on the road.
Both teams started the game horrendously on the offensive end. The Knights (15-10, 6-7 the American) shot 0-7 from the field and was held scoreless until Tanksley Efianayi drilled a three-pointer six minutes into the first half, while UConn (12-12, 7-5 the American) was 2-7 from the field in the opening minutes. In fact, with 12 minutes remaining in the first half, the score was only 4-3 in favor of the Huskies. One positive note for UConn in the early stages of the game was that they immediately got UCF’s 7-foot, 6-inch center Tacko Fall in foul trouble from the get-go, forcing him to sit much of the first half.
However, the offense would pick up in the middle of the first half as both teams started hitting their shots. A three-pointer by UCF’s Matt Williams forced a timeout from Ollie with nine minutes remaining in the half. Williams would hit another three in transition following the timeout to give the Knights a 16-9 lead, but the Huskies would quickly respond, tying the game at 22-22 going into the four-minute TV timeout. The UConn offense continued to excel out of the timeout, finishing the last eight minutes of the half on an extended run of 26-7 to go into the locker room ahead 35-23.
Senior guard Rodney Purvis was a huge part of the Huskies’ run and was by far the best player on the court in the first half. Purvis tallied 17 points on 5-7 from the field and all of his made shots were threes. With the confidence he has been displaying as of late, it seems like Purvis is once again the sharpshooter that he was meant to be at the start of the season. His three-point shooting, in particular, is vital to the team’s success and opens up space for the rest of the team to score, which showed in the Huskies’ win over USF and again Saturday night at UCF.
UConn started the second half just as hot as they ended the first, outscoring the Knights 6-2 just two minutes in, forcing a timeout out of UCF coach Johnny Dawkins. Later, freshman Christian Vital nailed a three to give the Huskies a 44-29 lead with just over 16 minutes remaining in the game. Vital hit a second three, making UConn 7-8 shooting for the second half, about three minutes later, which stretched the lead to 52-34.
The offenses were stagnant again for a stretch of play in the middle of the second half. For the Huskies, this was in part due to some misunderstanding between Vital and point guard Jalen Adams in terms of play execution. While the UConn offense continued to struggle with five minutes remaining in the game, the UCF offense started to produce, putting together a 14-2 run on the back of their full court pressure and transition offense. The Knights cut the deficit to just five with 3:45 remaining, forcing UConn head coach Kevin Ollie to take a timeout to settle down the team.
Following the timeout, Adams hit a big floater with his left hand, over the outstretched arm of Fall, to put the Huskies up seven with just over two minutes to play. Then, after an ill-advised three pointer by UCF, Vital hit a dagger three-pointer to regain UConn its double-digit lead. The last minute of the game would be filled with free-throws as the Knights tried to get back in the game by putting the Huskies on the line. Despite several missed free throws and poor inbounding, UConn hung on by a thread to go home the victors.
Next up, the Huskies will take on the Memphis Tigers Thursday night at 9 p.m. at the XL Center in hopes of continuing their climb up the American Athletic Conference standings.