At the beginning of the game, it seemed like the UConn men’s basketball team was poised for a win. They were up by 10 with 9:10 to go in the first half and were shooting 53 percent from the field.
But then the scoring drought happened again. Only this time, it lasted 20 minutes.
UConn (13-16, 6-10 The American) fell to Memphis (18-11, 9-7 The American) by a score of 83-79 at Gampel Pavilion. That final score does little to accurately show how the Huskies played. Jalen Adams finished with 25 points and five assists and Christian Vital finished with 19, but the other starters and the bench did little to prop up everyone else.
“It’s a tough one, to get cold for that long on both ends,” Adams said. “We weren’t able to get stops and we weren’t really able to score the ball, so it’s tough when a game goes like that.”
The game started off well enough—they hit their first three shots, all 3-pointers, and Vital had eight of the first 13 points. Three Memphis 3s later, the score was 24-22. The Tigers’ record for most 3-pointers in a conference game is 13; they had 11 tonight.
“We gotta watch the film, probably. Not help as much in the post, maybe. Something like that,” Vital said of fixing the 3-point defense. “Guys at this level, they’re going to make shots…maybe we just need to do a better job of guarding our guy so we don’t have to help each other as much, and then have late contesting for three.”
Memphis closed the first half on a 28-8 run that ballooned into a 48-15 run for the first 10 minutes of the second half. UConn hit only one field goal—a Vital 3-pointer—in those first 10 minutes. The Tigers had their biggest lead, 23, with 10:01 to go.
“I think maybe the starts gotta do a better job keeping the same energy,” Adams said. “I think we came out with a lot of energy and once we got up, we kind of just got laid back and that’s when they went on their run. And it was hard to stop it once they go to their run.”
It seemed like it was going to be another one of those 20-point losses the Huskies have become so accustomed to. That is, until head coach Kevin Ollie put in Kwintin Williams for the first time all game.
He had seven points and seven rebounds in 10 minutes in addition to bringing energy that a dejected UConn team sorely needed. Suddenly, they started scoring and playing defense—Memphis only hit five field goals for the remainder of the half, but they came at opportune times when the Huskies desperately needed a stop.
Ever since being praised by Ollie after the Wichita State game on Feb. 10, Williams has played 13 minutes over three games (he didn’t play at all against East Carolina). It took 30 minutes for him to get into Sunday night’s game, something Ollie attributed to his lack of consistency.
“He played tremendous [today]. Hopefully he comes back tomorrow the same in practice and plays with that energy,” Ollie said. “We go off of practice in this program. Not saying he wasn’t practicing hard, but we have to see that each and every day, you know, evidence of him coming in and working hard.”
UConn had a successful back end to the second half. Adams scored all 21 of his second half points in the final nine minutes and the team put up 41 points in 10 minutes, but the comeback effort fell short by a mere four points. Memphis had 27 points off of UConn’s 16 turnovers and out-rebounded the Huskies 32-25. UConn ended the game shooting 50 percent from the floor.
“We can’t wait to see we’re down 20, 25 and be like ‘Oh, now we gotta start playing.’ We gotta start from the beginning of the game,” Vital said. “And that’s just been one of our consistent challenges, but as long as we still have games left, we still have a chance to fix it. That’s my mindset, and I believe that the guys’ mindset as well. As long as we have another game, we just try to get better, try to win the next one.”