With Dan Hurley at the helm, a loaded recruiting class on the way and already some quality wins under their belt, UConn men’s basketball is undoubtedly trending in the right direction. But Sunday’s heartwrenching loss to Arizona shows this team certainly still has some growing to do.
“Angry, disappointed. This is one of those losses where you don’t really get that much sleep and basketball really means something to you,” Sidney Wilson said after the game. “This really hurt, but we’re gonna have to regroup.”
The Huskies committed 19 turnovers and led for just 1:42. They hung around, but it seemed like every time they pulled within a bucket, a series of defensive breakdowns and costly offensive fouls pushed it out of reach.
“The first half we had some serious [defensive] breakdowns, but in the end, the turnovers got us,” head coach Dan Hurley said. “We have to take better care of the basketball. We just didn’t play well enough overall on both ends to beat a good team.”
But if there is such a thing as an encouraging loss in which you cough the ball up 19 times, it’s this one. The team—Alterique Gilbert especially—fought tenaciously on the defensive end, endured some whistle-happy officiating and Sid Wilson put on a show in his first extended playing time.
“We should’ve won this game,” Hurley said. “Credit Arizona, Sean [Miller] is a heck of a coach, they’ve got a heck of a program, but we were supposed to win this game.”
Sid Wilson arrives
Wilson made his collegiate debut in UConn’s last time out on Tuesday, but was mostly a non-factor. The redshirt freshman played just five minutes in a blowout win and didn’t get on the scoreboard, missing a pair of putback dunks.
Under the circumstances—a disappointing debut, a March atmosphere inside XL, a powerhouse opponent—it would be understandable if Wilson was a little gun-shy against Arizona. He wasn’t.
“Every game I feel like I can make an impact in some way,” Wilson said. “Coming off the bench, I just try to bring an energy to the game and I feel like I did that today.”
On Sunday, Wilson arrived for real this time. His play was electrifying in the first half. Just moments after checking in, Wilson notched the first points of his UConn career, a smooth stepback jumper from the baseline. In the next two minutes Wilson hit a three, snatched a rebound, and took a charge to bring the XL Center to hearing loss-inducing levels.
“I want to give him a big salute,” Eric Cobb said about Wilson. “The things that he’s been through, from a year of sitting out from basketball, he came and gave a good spark off the bench.”
Wilson played limited minutes in the second, mostly due to some defensive lapses. He still finished with an impressive line of seven points (on 2-of-4 shooting), a pair of rebounds and a blocked shot in 12 minutes of action.
“As soon as he came in the game he showcased what he’s capable of,” Jalen Adams said. “It’s fun to have him back out with us, and he’s just gonna keep improving. Today was just the start.”
The excitement among his teammates surrounding Wilson is evident. Hurley is excited too, but he also stressed that Sid is far from a finished product.
“The good thing about Sid is that he got his five [points] in that first half, but I think when we go back and watch the film, he gave up seven,” Hurley said. “We coached Sid every day when he was suspended, but there’s a different level of coaching when you’re actually in the rotation. We just need Sid shored up, but you can see the athletic talent against an athletic team. He belonged on the court.”
An amped crowd, and a big name among them
An announced crowd of 14,603 had the XL Center as loud as its been in years, and the team fed off that energy throughout.
“The crowd was excellent, they really carried us emotionally through some choppy play,” Hurley said.
“It was a wonderful feeling, it was mindblowing,” Cobb said on the crowd. “We let our fans down tonight, but I just want all the fans to stay true to UConn and keep riding with us.”
Among the crowd was Akok Akok, the newest recruit of the Dan Hurley era.
Hurley and company received some thrilling news on Saturday, with the announcement that five-star recruit Akok will enroll at UConn in the spring semester. He will redshirt this season, and will be able to play next season under a scholarship.
Akok was in the crowd on Sunday, seated behind the UConn bench wearing a team sweatshirt. Known generally as a reserved personality, Akok was clearly excited to watch the thriller as a future member of the team.
“They were supporting me from day one, back in April when I first met them. They wanted what’s best for me,” Akok said during the half of Sunday’s game. “I’m glad it’s over. I’m happy I’m a Husky.”
Akok, a 6’9 forward, is a force on both ends of the ball and can score inside and out. When he does play for UConn, he’ll have an immediate impact in the frontcourt.
But right now, that’s less of a when and more of an if.
While Akok will enroll at UConn in the spring, it’s possible that he’ll depart for the pros after this year without actually playing in a Huskies uniform. On Sunday, he remained noncommittal on his future.
“It’s day-to-day. I have to decide,” Akok said.