First, they got throttled 62-46 in front of their home crowd. Then, with a 10-point halftime lead on the road, they shot 31 percent from the floor in the second half and lost 75-70.
Tonight is the last matchup of the season for UConn and Houston, and so far, the Cougars hold the advantage. Unsurprisingly, First Team All-Conference duo Rob Gray and Damyean Dotson have been causing the most trouble, scoring 70 points combined against UConn this season.
The Huskies couldn’t seem to grasp the concept of offense in their first meeting back in December. Their most recent loss, a result of a spectacular defensive collapse and a failure to hit big shots, was the start of a four-game losing streak that saw UConn go from a hopeful 3-seed to a 6-seed.
The key to controlling the Cougars is simple: better defense.
“Just transition. That’s going to be huge for us tomorrow, getting back in transition, and getting stops on the defensive end,” Rodney Purvis said last night following his 30-point performance. “I think it will be—both teams are likely to get up and down, so I think it will be a good up-and-down game tomorrow. The main thing for us is getting rebounds, getting stops and getting back in transition.”
Houston is a team that shoots 39.4 percent from three, and the Gray-Dotson tandem average 37.7 points from the perimeter, accounting for nearly 46 percent of Houston’s offense. After three straight conference losses at the beginning of January, the Cougars won eight out of their last 10 games, losing to only SMU and Cincinnati.
Gray is the leading conference scorer, averaging an impressive 20.3 points per game. Dotson sits fourth on that list, but leads the conference in 3-point shooting, sinking 43.7 percent of his attempts.
As for UConn, Purvis lit up the court last night with a career-high 30 points, proving that his time to shine is during tournament play. With fellow guard Jalen Adams clearly still hampered by his ankle, Purvis may have to put up numbers like that again to keep up with Houston.
Purvis was able to score in a plethora of ways. Usually relying on perimeter shots and 3-pointers, he mixed up his game by driving to the basket and getting points in the paint, taking only six 3-pointers and making half of them. He made the biggest contribution from the free throw line, going 9-for-10 and fueling the Huskies’ 27-for-33 day from the charity stripe.
In last night’s 77-66 win over USF, Amida Brimah and Christian Vital were the only other two players to score in double-digits. Kentan Facey was a non-factor once again, going 0-for-6 from the floor and scoring his only two points on free throws. His three rebounds were below the caliber of play he has displayed this season, and the Huskies will need him to step up bigtime to give Houston a bit more of a challenge than just stopping Purvis.
Though Houston holds the 2-0 regular season advantage, it’s no secret that everyone treats the tournament differently. With the home crowd expected to turn out big for the hometown Huskies, Purvis said he’s incredibly grateful for the support, and the advantage is almost palpable.
“The fans are huge for us. Any time it’s time to get down and get a big-time stop, to hear those guys in the stands going crazy for us is definitely a momentum boost for us, and we’re just happy to have the best fans in the world,” Purvis said.
UConn will face the Cougars for the third and final time of the season at 9 p.m.