Men’s Basketball: Huskies’ season comes to brutal end, falling to top-seeded Houston

Christian Vital plows through two Houston defenders in UConn’s 85-45 loss to Houston in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament on Friday, March 15 in Memphis, Tenn. (Judah Shingleton/The Daily Campus)

Christian Vital plows through two Houston defenders in UConn’s 85-45 loss to Houston in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament on Friday, March 15 in Memphis, Tenn. (Judah Shingleton/The Daily Campus)

MEMPHIS — After a difficult season defined by adversity and heartbreak, the first year of the Dan Hurley era has come to an end. The UConn men’s basketball team was dominated by No. 1 seed Houston on Friday, 84-45, bouncing the Huskies in the second round of the American Athletic Conference Tournament.

With just a day to prepare for the nationally-ranked No. 11 Houston and still without starting guard Alterique Gilbert, the Huskies can’t hang their heads after the loss. But losing by 39 points certainly doesn’t make that any easier—it’s the worst conference tournament loss UConn has ever had.

“Obviously, crushing, crushing loss. It was a perfect storm,” Hurley said after the loss. “Playing a deep, incredibly well-coached, Final Four caliber team… But just a really tough way to end a year where we felt like we were making progress.”

RELATED: Jalen Adams leaves behind a complex UConn legacy

Less than a day after UConn (16-17, 6-12 The American) seemingly couldn’t miss, Houston (30-2, 16-2) was far and away the better team on Friday. The Cougars shot 46.4 percent from the field and made 10 3s, while stifling defense held the Huskies to just 25.9 percent shooting, including 3-of-26 from beyond the arc.

“Houston is where we want to get some day,” Hurley said. “The message after the game was, ‘One through 10, that's how good we've got to get.’… It was just a humbling reminder of how far we have to go, both from a recruitment, development standpoint, and it's going to take us some time.”

Playing in his final game at UConn, senior Jalen Adams led the team with 15 points, 10 rebounds and three assists in 38 minutes. He finishes his career with the 10th-most points in UConn program history and falls just five points shy of becoming the conference’s all-time scoring leader.

“I think as I have progressed throughout my time, I became more mature and I kind of looked at things, looked at the bigger picture,” Adams said. “I think adversity was probably the best for me. It's turned me into a man…I think all the ups and downs that I've experienced at UConn has been beneficial for me.”

Here during one of UConn’s roughest stretches in recent memory, Adams has remained one of the sole constants during his four years. Last offseason, he mulled foregoing his senior season but ultimately came back to play for Hurley. This year, he has been not only UConn’s most talented player but also its most important leader, on and off the court.

It was a game of runs in the first half, with UConn hanging around for awhile. Houston opened the game with 11 unanswered points, the Huskies soon followed with a 9-0 run to pull within two, and another 11-0 Cougars run followed. Houston carried a 39-26 lead into the break before blowing it wide open in the second.

Josh Carlton fights for a layup. (Judah Shingleton/The Daily Campus)

Josh Carlton fights for a layup. (Judah Shingleton/The Daily Campus)

If UConn’s second half gameplan was to feed sophomore Josh Carlton in the post and draw fouls, he certainly did the second part, but struggled all afternoon at the line, going just 5-of-11 at the stripe. Trailing 69-34, Carlton’s frustration got the best of him, pulling a Houston player to the ground fighting for the ball. The teams had to separated and Carlton was assessed a flagrant.

If UConn’s second half gameplan was to feed sophomore Josh Carlton in the post and draw fouls, he certainly did the second part, but struggled all afternoon at the line, going just 5-of-11 at the stripe. Trailing 69-34, Carlton’s frustration got the best of him, pulling a Houston player to the ground fighting for the ball. The teams had to separated and Carlton was assessed a flagrant.

Carlton recorded his fourth double-double of the season, finishing with 13 points and 11 boards. After an otherworldly performance against USF, junior Christian Vital struggled, shooting just 2-of-9 for nine points. After the game, he remained noncommittal when asked if he’ll return for his senior season.

The lead grew to as many as 40 as UConn shot just 18.5 percent from the floor in the second half and missed all 13 3-pointers they attempted. But after the game, Hurley emphasized that though the margin was massive, the Huskies never quit.

“Winning was out of the equation, so we just talked about not quitting,” Hurley said on his message during timeouts. “Today wasn't quitting, today was being completely overmatched and being outplayed at the absolute highest level. If you watch the game and you felt like we laid down and played dead, then you know nothing about sports or basketball, and you should stop watching it.”

Adams checked out for the final time with 51 seconds remaining, embracing Hurley on the sidelines and receiving a warm ovation from the mostly non-UConn crowd.

“A whole bunch of emotions,” Adams said on what he felt as he walked off. “But I think mainly I tried to think about the good things more than the bad things. Seeing all my brothers standing up for me, I don't know, it hits a soft spot in your heart, all the love that you see on your team.”

Jalen Adams fights for the ball. (Judah Shingleton/The Daily Campus)

Jalen Adams fights for the ball. (Judah Shingleton/The Daily Campus)

Without an automatic bid, UConn will be watching the NCAA tournament from the sidelines for the third-straight season. It’s also the third consecutive year that the Huskies will finish with a losing record, the first time they’ve had three straight losing seasons in over 30 years.

Yet there was undoubtedly a different feel this season compared to the last two, and not just from the excitement of a new head coach. There was rapid player development, evidenced by Carlton’s Most Improved Player nod. There were a handful of unforgettable wins, most memorably taking down Syracuse at the Garden. And a young core has emerged with talented recruits on the way.

Ending the season with a 39-point loss is soul-crushing. Losing a leader and playmaker like Jalen Adams is never easy. But the future looks brighter than it has in years.


Andrew Morrison is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at andrew.morrison@uconn.edu. He tweets at @asmor24