HARTFORD – Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the UConn men’s basketball team saw one of their players go down with an injury.
Saturday against No. 17 SMU at the XL Center, it was playmaking guard Jalen Adams, who went to the floor clutching his left ankle with just a few minutes remaining in the first half and trailing by 11 points.
“We’ve been battling this all season. It feels like every game, it’s something else, but you know, it shows our guys’ resiliency…whatever five is out there, and whoever’s able to play, we stick together,” freshman guard Christian Vital said after the game.
The Huskies did stick together, and with Vital helping to lead the charge, they fought back to cut the Mustangs’ lead to just five with 9:20 left in the game. They didn’t inch closer, as SMU stayed poised and disciplined to keep UConn at arm’s length for an eight-point win.
But they didn’t give up. Head coach Kevin Ollie will tell you that as long as you’d like to listen.
“We gotta stay back in the boat and we gotta keep rowing the same way, and I think our guys did that. They could have hung their heads again, but this group got a lot of toughness behind ‘em,” Ollie said. “The pursuit of not giving up is what I try to teach ‘em each and every day.”
UConn received contributions from all over as they attempted to claw back without Adams. Vital hit some difficult, contested shots. Kentan Facey and Amida Brimah fought tooth and nail – with Ollie calling them “warriors” after the game – to claim rebounds. Rodney Purvis, who partially sunk UConn’s chances with a poor shooting night, also hit some crucial jumpers to bring them back into the game.
It wasn’t easy to cut the lead back to five, without Adams, against a team as polished as Tim Jankovich’s Mustangs.
“It shows that guys were stepping up today, you know, from anyone who came in…but it’s kind of hard to break a 16-point lead, something like that, in a game against a great team like SMU,” Vital said.
It will go down as a loss though, and after blowing a 10-point halftime lead in Houston Wednesday, the second in a row for a UConn team that looked so resurgent just a week ago.
“You can’t get frustrated, it’s about life. So I’m just teaching ‘em life lessons. You know, things happen, we gotta keep focus, you gotta control what you control. Life is too short to try to control something you can’t,” Ollie said.
And if Adams continues to miss time, these same Huskies will have to figure things out without their leading scorer and assist getter, with conference titan Cincinnati looming next Saturday and the American Athletic Conference Championship the week after that.
“It’s frustrating in a sense, but at the end of the day, we know there’s nobody that’s gonna do it for us. We can’t make trades, we can’t do anything like that, so we gotta figure out how to do it with the guys we had,” Facey said.
If it wasn’t clear after losing Terry Larrier, Alterique Gilbert and Mamadou Diarra for the season in November, the Huskies have no other options.
“We don’t have a choice, we came to UConn. We still have to represent this university, regardless of the ups and downs that we face, we still have to represent the guys that came before us,” Facey said.