Even though the UConn men’s basketball team got trounced by Providence 90-76 in their first exhibition game of the season, head coach Kevin Ollie had more positive takeaways than expected.
“I really thought our young guys played very, very well once they settled in,” Ollie said with sincerity post-game.
He certainly wasn’t wrong; UConn was only down by nine at the end of the first half to a Providence team that has made the NCAA tournament in each of the last four years. Ollie didn’t downplay the negatives, either, but he remained optimistic.
“We got a lot of things to correct,” he said, “but that’s what exhibition is all about.”
Even though it was an impromptu exhibition game for hurricane relief, it was the first look at the refurbished Huskies, and there were lots of things to take away from the game. Here are just a few:
1. Trouble with the three
With the absence of Vance Jackson, UConn lacks a 3-point sharpshooter. Plenty of Huskies tried, though: they finished 6-for-22 from beyond the arc. Terry Larrier simply doesn’t have the arc in his shot to make threes, and it was difficult to tell who among the new guys could possibly emerge as the one. It wasn’t just the offense that struggled with the perimeter, though. UConn gave up nine 3-pointers on 17 attempts from Providence, which is certainly a testament to the Friars’ accuracy, but an ugly display of UConn’s scattered defense too. It plagued the Huskies last year, so hopefully they fix it before the regular season.
2. Thankfully, some of last year’s troubles aren’t sticking around…
The Huskies didn’t end up out-rebounding Providence overall (29 to 34), and that’s skewed by an incredibly sloppy second half on UConn’s part, but they crashed the boards a lot better than they did last year. Eric Cobb, who sat out most of the second half due to foul trouble, grabbed three rebounds and definitely would have had more had he stayed in the game longer.
“Coach in practice has been putting a big emphasis on rebounding, so I just came out with that in my mind,” Josh Carlton, who finished with four points and two rebounds, said. “Just rebound and switch out on screens and just be there, everything he’s been putting emphasis on in practice.”
UConn grabbed more offensive rebounds (11) than Providence (three), something they rarely did last year. Additionally, they out-shot Providence at the free throw line, 77.4 percent on 24-for-31 shooting as opposed to the Friars’ 60 percent on 21-for-35 shooting. The team shot 71.2 percent last season from thee free-throw line, a significant downgrade for a program that would not have won the 2014 title without making free throws, so an improved performance at the charity would help, at the very least, to remind the Huskies that they can indeed put the ball through the hoop.
3. …But old habits die hard
Unfortunately, some of last year’s problems are still looming large, mainly: the team still can’t score. UConn went an abysmal 23-for-62 (37.1 percent) from the floor and looked very much like last year’s team when they couldn’t seem to sink a shot. A lot of this was because the Huskies took long-range shots from the floor that were mere inches away from counting as a three, but part of it was because they couldn’t finish at the rim, either.
“We have a whole bunch of new freshmen and then a whole bunch of new transfers, and then guys like Alterique (Gilbert), Mamadou (Diarra) and Terry (Larrier), they’re just getting back into motion as well,” Christian Vital, who finished with 17 points, said. “I’m not hanging this loss over our head at all. Obviously we did lose, they beat us by a good amount of points, and give credit to them, they’re a good team, but I like our chances later on in the season against anybody.”
Maybe it was nerves, maybe it was rust, maybe it was unfamiliarity with the pace of a collegiate game. Either way, UConn’s got a scoring problem that they need to fix if they hope to live up to their own expectations.