Men’s Basketball: UConn gets boost from Tarin Smith, ‘killer instinct’ in uplifting win

Tarin Smith pushes past a UMKC defender during a game on Nov. 11, 2018. (Nicholas Hampton/ The Daily Campus)

Thoughts from Dan Hurley

Christian Vital has not started the season off well. He’s shot 5-for-21 over two games including 2-for-12 from 3-point range. But he’s managed to crack the starting lineup twice now and leads the team in total rebounds with 18.

And he has head coach Dan Hurley’s trust. Why? Because he battles.

“Christian’s gotta be more selective with his shots,” Hurley said. “But for me, going into a game is like going into battle. And I like to go into battle with tough guys and guys who compete real hard.”

After every practice leading up to the start of the season, Hurley preached about how the team needed to adapt his personality and play with as much intensity as he coached with. Though the Huskies haven’t yet played a truly tough opponent, it’s clear some of Hurley’s insanity has found its way into UConn’s playing style.

“I thought we showed a lot more killer relentlessness,” Hurley said. “I like our pace, I like how we attacked and how the ball [went] down the court again.”

UConn’s 94-66 win over University of Missouri Kansas City was a big improvement over their last game. Tarin Smith led the team with 22 points in 19 minutes, just four points shy of his career high. Jalen Adams was close behind with 20 points, and Vital grabbed a team-high 10 boards.

The defense was better, the offense was more efficient and, best of all, every single UConn player that logged minutes (except Kwintin Williams and the two walk-ons, Temi Aiyegbusi and Daniel Brocke) scored at least one bucket. Smith and fellow grad transfer Kassoum Yakwe are both overcoming injuries, but they’re going to be key for Hurley going forward.

“I think Tarin’s one of our very best players… I just knew we were gonna get a guy that was gonna guard… hopefully he can get over this quad thing and be able to practice more and continue to grow his role for us,” Hurley said. “[Yakwe]’s been out since July. He’s been out for a long time, dealing with some things with his foot. He’s literally just started going live, like, 10 days ago. He’s just trying to catch up… When he gets healthy and finds a rhythm and catches up with where the game is in terms of how much time he’s missed and the amount of rust… he’s going to be a key guy for us. Like, really, really key for us because of our defensive style.”

Thoughts from the players

Smith, a grad transfer from Duquesne, has come off the bench the last two games mainly because of a quad injury that’s limiting his minutes. But tonight he showed no signs of an injury, going 10-for-22 from the floor, grabbed five rebounds and dished out two assists.

“It’s just part of my game,” Smith said. “I think it’s part of the way you can play when we play together. I think when we all play together we’re all getting some shots.”

The Huskies scored more points in Sunday’s game than they did in any regular season game last year. The offense is finally starting to click, and Smith, who expects to be a big part of that going forward, knows it’s because of the team’s selflessness.

“You gotta credit it to the coaching staff, you gotta credit it to us, the guys, coming together having no jealousy, no anything; just wanting to win,” Smith said. “I think we realize we’re all really good. Like, we all have different things in our game that are just really, really good. So when we play together, we play better. We score more, we get more assists, it looks better for everybody.”

Sunday’s game wasn’t without its struggles, however. The Huskies started the second half by going 2-for-13 from the floor and 0-for-7 from three. But UConn came flying out of a much-needed media timeout with a Smith 3-pointer and an Eric Cobb fast break dunk, firmly swinging the momentum back to their side.

Success, Jalen Adams said, simply comes from sharing the ball.

“[Coach told us] that we had to tighten up and stop playing to the scoreboard,” Adams said. “I think when we came out, we were very complacent and not really in attack mode. We wasn’t really sharing the ball, honestly, we were kinda coming down, first person to catch it was jacking up a shot. I think after the time out, coach told us to settle down, play our type of basketball, and when we share the ball, that’s when we’re best.”


Stephanie Sheehan is the managing editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at stephanie.sheehan@uconn.edu. She tweets @steph_sheehan.