HARTFORD— Three times, UConn had the chance to take the lead in the second half. Three times, the offense couldn’t get it done. And when it came down to the wire, fouls and missed free throws were the costly mistakes, part of a multitude that the Huskies were made all game.
In UConn’s 76-72 loss to Arizona, simple mistakes were the killer. Nineteen turnovers, 21 fouls and 33.3 percent shooting from the perimeter (8-for-24) all plagued the Huskies. The usually-effective Alterique Gilbert shot just 3-for-12 from the field, and Jalen Adams, despite 21 points, went 2-for-7 from 3-point range and didn’t take the game over like head coach Dan Hurley needed him to.
“In the end, the turnovers got us. We gotta take better care of the basketball,” Hurley said. “We had a couple [3-point chances] in the second half when we were surging that could have put us over the top, could have taken a lead. We didn’t play well enough overall on both ends to beat a good team.”
It was clear from the start that the Huskies didn’t have it going from beyond the arc. They missed their first five 3-point attempts, and none of the shots looked particularly good. But Eric Cobb, who notched his second double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds, kept UConn afloat after Arizona jumped out to an 18-12 lead.
Cobb notched eight straight points off the bench in that span, and that paved the way for the Huskies to keep the score close.
“He’s just a baller, he’s good. You put him on the court, he’s capable of doing so much different stuff,” Adams said of Cobb. “He kind of brought that toughness that we needed in the start of the game. He kind of carried us and kept us in the game to make a late [first half] push, so we need a guy like that to come in and step up.”
Cobb had a chance for a three-point play, and even though he missed the free throw, it spurred a rally for UConn where they made eight of their nine field goal attempts, including a Christian Vital three-point play. Sidney Wilson hit a fadeaway, took charge and sunk UConn’s first 3-pointer of the game to give the Huskies their first and only lead.
“It felt good, first time being at XL. It was a great experience,” Wilson said. “The crowd did a good job keeping us in the game. It was like a sixth person on the court. It was very loud in there, I appreciate the fans for everything they did.”
It was a near-sellout at the XL Center on Sunday, with an announced attendance of 14,603. When UConn was hitting shots, it sounded like the days of old, something Cobb called a “wonderful feeling.”
But while that atmosphere helped give the Huskies energy, it didn’t prevent them from making mistakes. After Arizona called timeout once UConn took the lead, the Huskies committed four straight turnovers and began to look disoriented on defense.
“We gotta do better on the defensive end,” Cobb said. “That wasn’t good enough. We let our fans down tonight, but I just want all the fans to stay true to UConn and keep riding with us.”
The Wildcats got their lead up to seven near the end of the first half, but UConn was able to cut the deficit to 42-38 going into halftime. It was the second half where the mistakes started to pile on—nine turnovers, 13 fouls and 4-for-12 shooting from beyond the arc. They allowed Arizona to shoot 51 percent from the field in the first half.
The Wildcats got what they expected with Brandon Randolph, who scored 20, and Chase Jeter, who scored 14. What they didn’t expect was to get two double-digit performances from Ryan Luther and Dylan Smith.
“This is like, a mistake game,” Hurley said. “You gotta eliminate the mistakes. And for us to allow Dylan Smith and Luther to score 20 points against us on the road… two role guys… is just—beyond the turnovers and some of the breakdowns, you just can’t take their key guys out and then allow their secondary players to beat you, especially at home. That’s not good.”
Arizona got their lead up to eight with 8:06 to play in the second half, and the Huskies tried hard to chip away. But the foul calls started to rack up, especially the charging calls. Arizona is known for drawing charges, and there were no shortages of those on Sunday.
“There was just a lot of stuff we went over in practice that we didn’t carry over into the game,” Adams said. “We just gotta be more disciplined when we’re driving to the rim. We gotta come to two-foot stops and not just jump up in the air and hope the refs give us the call.”
When the game reached the 2:00 mark, Arizona had a five-point lead on the Huskies. Tyler Polley, who struggled all game, hit a corner 3 to bring the Huskies back within two. On the very next possession, Tarin Smith fouled Randolph on a 3-point shot, and he sunk all his free throws. Polley hit another 3-pointer on the other end, but UConn responded with another foul on the defensive end.
The Wildcats closed out the game by drawing fouls on five straight possessions and sinking all but one free throw attempt. They finished the day 19-for-22 from the charity stripe.
“We know we can compete with the best,” Adams said. “It was a pretty close game. We just know that all the 50/50 balls, all the charges, we gotta eliminate those and lock into every little detail because in games like this, that’s what it comes down to.”