It may only be two games into the season, but something inexplicable is happening to the UConn Huskies. A team that was ranked No. 18 by AP in the preseason polls has just dropped its first two games for the first time since the 1968-69 season.
They can’t finish a layup. They can’t defend the perimeter, much less the rest of the court. They can’t rebound. Despite shooting better than their opponents from the floor, they have managed to score less points.
So where do they go from here?
For Head Coach Kevin Ollie, at least, the solution boils down to mental toughness and staying together through a dark time.
“We just gotta find some toughness somewhere. We’re going to dig deep and we’re going to find it. I’m not giving up on the season; a lot of people probably already gave up on us,” Ollie said. “We gotta get better, we gotta get tough, and these two games were an example of that. We have to find some guys who will do it. They’re going to look in the mirror and they’re going to find some toughness in there, and I’m gonna find this, and we’re going to stay together through this.”
OFFENSE? WHAT OFFENSE?
Momentum is certainly a fickle thing. It’s supposed to be a game-changer. Momentum shifts are some of the most powerful things in sports. Once it goes to one side, it never shifts back quickly.
Unless, of course, you’re the UConn Huskies.
If there is one thing this UConn offense lacks, it’s capitalizing. Multiple times they got the Gampel crowd on its feet, only to have them sit down in frustration moments later.
“There’s some things we have to get taken care of defensively, and we gotta play better defense, with more intensity,” Terry Larrier said. “We have to execute our plays better and move the ball more.”
UConn tied the game four separate times and were unable to pull away in any significant way. Their largest lead of the game was only four points, and it only took three minutes for them to lose it. The difference in tonight’s game was simple: Northeastern, despite shooting 36.4 percent from the floor compared to UConn’s 39.1 percent, hit shots when it mattered.
After going down by a basket with four minutes to go, they scored six unanswered to close out the half with a 35-31 lead. When they went down by four in the second half, they made three three-point attempts in a row to take the lead, and capped it off with a tip-in and two jumpers to take a sudden 51-46 lead.
When UConn came within one, Northeastern’s TJ Williams, who finished with 20 points, made both his free throw shots. Northeastern then proceeded to grab two rebounds, one offensive and one defensive, and converted them into a basket. After a Jalen Adams jumper, they corralled another offensive rebound and converted it into two points.
You can see where this is going.
“Once again, it’s the rebounding. We can’t give this team 17 offensive rebounds. I don’t care how many threes they shot, long rebounds…but there were rebounds right in the middle of the paint. We just gotta get those, and we gotta figure it out,” Ollie said.
If nothing else, Kevin Ollie’s flaw as a coach is as glaring as ever: he simply cannot draw up an efficient inbounds play. Larrier is not to blame for the ugly shot he put up in the final seconds, because passing the ball around the perimeter for 15 seconds and having no choice but to chuck up a shot is not a play.
The only way the Huskies can get better from here is if they play a completely different brand of basketball. They need to finish their layups, make three pointers, learn how to execute against a zone defense and stop getting torn up by the opposing team’s offense.
Basically, they need to play good basketball. But there’s no telling how long it is going to take for them to do this, or if they’ll do it at all.
But Ollie is not quitting, and he won’t let his team quit, either.
“They’re better shooters than this. They’re in the gym all the time,” Ollie said. “We’re not going to let our problems stop us from [our goals]. I just never imagined we’d be 0-2 now, but it happens. I gotta make adjustments as a coach, and that’s what I believe in. I never was a quitter, never gonna be a quitter. I don’t think you lose until you quit, and we’re not going to quit.”
-UConn has struggled from the free throw line thus far this season. Through these two initial games, the Huskies have only made 18 out of 29 shots, good for a percentage of 62.1. Last year’s team had a percentage of 79.3, and averaged 13.6 made free throws per game. While it still is early, foul shots should be a top priority for UConn going forward; their seven missed free throws tonight were the difference between a win and a loss.
-Jalen Adams, in every sense, performed eons better tonight than on Friday. His 15 points were second only to Larrier, his defense was better, and he got much, much better looks.
-Ball handling is key, and the Huskies have not excelled at it. UConn has committed 20 turnovers so far, and while that is not far out of the norm, it doesn’t take a statistician to see that the Huskies have had a hard time holding onto the ball, whether fighting for possession or simply rebounding.