NEW YORK—What started as a game riddled with silly foul calls quickly spiraled into a sloppy, unorganized contest for the UConn men’s basketball team. Everything that made their victory against Syracuse possible—tough defense, sharp shooting and unrelenting intensity—seemingly disappeared overnight.
And the questionable foul calls didn’t go away, either. In fact, the frustration of the night’s officiating followed UConn head coach Dan Hurley through the tunnel following his ejection from the game with less than two minutes left on the game clock. Referee Bo Boroski handed Hurley his second technical after overhearing a conversation between him and Jalen Adams.
“Bo overheard a conversation I was having with a player on my team and felt that it was the appropriate decision,” Hurley said. “I have a hard job. The players have a hard job. Referees have a hard job. We all have to be held accountable for our actions.”
UConn indeed had a hard job—recover from an emotionally-draining win over a big-time rival and gear up to play a much bigger and more mature Iowa team. The Huskies regressed and dropped a 19-point contest, 91-72, that showed there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.
“It was our first adversity in a game, in terms of getting behind,” Hurley said. “It wasn’t selfishness that kicked in. These guys wanted this one so bad, that’s a team of guys that desperately wanted to win something… trusting each other is what’s made us good offensively. It got away from us today.”
Right from the start, it was evident that these weren’t the same Huskies that upset the Orange. UConn (3-1) turned the ball over on the first possession, and even though they struck first with a layup, they held the lead for just four minutes before the Hawkeyes (4-0) all but ran away with the game.
The offense struggled
What worked for the Huskies against Syracuse was that they were able to force turnovers on the defensive end and create offense before the Orange could even set their zone. Against Iowa, UConn forced only five turnovers in the first half and were too rushed on offense to get anything going.
“The ball was sticking, we took a lot of contested shots, we weren’t getting inside-out 3s,” Hurley said. “Part of it was the multiple defenses they threw at us. We got behind and it was our first time in that situation. We panicked a little bit.”
UConn recorded 22 assists against Syracuse. On Friday, they only had 10. Iowa’s zone was much more active than Syracuse’s, and that created sloppiess with both passing and shot selection. The Huskies went an abysmal 4-for-26 from 3-point range, and they didn’t even hit one until Alterique Gilbert sunk one 30 minutes into the game.
“We let our offense dictate the way we played,” Jalen Adams, who led the Huskies with 20 points, said. “We have to start with defense, and let our defense get our offense going. We weren’t hitting shots today, and we kind of just fell back and weren’t as aggressive as we should’ve been.”
Eric Cobb proved to be the lone bright spot for the Huskies. After a career night against Syracuse Thursday, Cobb set another career-high in points, 16, and led the team in rebounding with seven boards. He was the only UConn player to be picked for the all-tournament team.
“It was a big achievement, but this was not about me,” Cobb said. “It’s a team game. I’m just hoping the team can just get better.”
The defense disappeared
Things weren’t much better on the defensive end. Garza and Cook were easily able to drive into the lane and get open shots. UConn has thrived in transition this season, and the Husky defense created no opportunities for that transition to happen.
“We dug too deep of a hole,” Hurley said. “We kinda had to try to catch up by playing irresponsible, pressure defense, which just kind of opened up a lot of things for them.”
Tournament MPV Matt Garza and Tyler Cook were simply too big and too dynamic for the Huskies. They combined to score 48 of Iowa’s 91 points, and Connor McCaffery added 19. The Hawkeyes out-rebounded the Huskies 43-31 and pushed them around down low.
“The thing we need to focus on is defensive rebounding,” Eric Cobb, who had another breakout night with 16 points and seven rebounds, said. “The offense is going to take care of itself, but just gotta have faith and keep on moving.”
And the refs didn’t help much, either
Rarely do referees determine the outcome of games— UConn’s loss to Cincinnati in the 2016 American Athletic Conference semifinals is sure to ring some bells among Husky fans. But while there is no excuse for UConn’s all-around poor play, it seemed like UConn was tagged for simply making physical contact with a Hawkeye every other possession.
That early foul trouble didn’t help UConn’s cause, as it forced Hurley to play a four-guard lineup that matched up poorly to the Hawkeyes. Even though Iowa turned the ball over three more times than UConn did (18-15), they netted 29 points alone from the free-throw time.
“I’m not going to put myself inside the minds of the crew tonight,” Hurley said. “It was what it was.”
The Huskies will head to the XL Center for the first time on Tuesday to take on Cornell at 7 p.m.