That statement victory over Syracuse on Nov. 15 feels like years ago, and with an entirely different team.
Since then, the UConn men’s basketball team has had three chances to take down another top-tier program in Arizona, Florida State, and most recently, Villanova. But the team fell short—especially down the stretch—in all three of those contests.
With that said, the Huskies had taken care of business against the rest of their schedule, beating teams they’re supposed to beat with relative ease.
That all came crashing down on Wednesday in UConn’s American Conference opener, traveling to Tampa to take on USF. The Huskies carried an eight-point lead into halftime but completely unraveled in the second, ultimately losing 76-68 and falling to a 9-5 record on the season.
“We got sloppy, we got complacent,” head coach Dan Hurley said in a press conference after the loss. “We exhibited all the symptoms of a team that’s just not a good team.”
Senior Jalen Adams led the way with 25 points on 9-of-18 shooting, though he also had twice as many turnovers (6) as assists (3). Junior guard Christian Vital was the most efficient performer, totaling 16 points on 5-of-7 from the field, and had three assists with zero turnovers.
It was another dismal showing for the UConn frontcourt. Starters Tyler Polley and Josh Carlton combined for just six points on an abysmal 2-of-14 from the floor and four total rebounds. Senior Eric Cobb added a single point in 15 minutes off the bench. The team allowed USF to pull down 15 offensive rebounds.
The Huskies led by 13 points with two and a half minutes remaining in the first, and seemed on the verge of putting the game away. But an awful closeout to the half gave USF (11-2) some crucial momentum heading into the second, and from there, it was all Bulls.
“We took better care of the ball in the first half, but the comedy of errors offensively, where we should’ve gone into the half up 12 to 15,” Hurley said. “That comedy of errors to close the half and get it to eight, then you come out in the second half and turn it over three times before the first media [timeout].”
In what was an ugly, whistle-happy game, UConn turned it over 13 times and shot just 32 percent in the second half.
The Bulls seized the lead at 41-40 with 12:18 to play, and never trailed again. The Huskies did make a late run, trimming the deficit to four with just over a minute remaining, but USF hit their free throws the rest of the way and closed it out.
USF, winners of seven straight, hit 60 percent of their shots in the second and took 46 free throws. Laquincy Rideau poured in 25 points, and star David Collins added 17 in limited minutes due to foul trouble. The Bulls also snapped a 10-game losing streak to UConn.
UConn is now just 1-5 in AAC conference openers, a scary mark considering the uneven level of talent in the American. Tuesday’s game was the second-straight second half meltdown for the Huskies, and if that continues, this team will certainly continue to pile up the disappointing losses.
“When the snowball starts rolling down the hill for us,” Hurley said. “We cave in.”
The Huskies return home on Saturday, challenging UCF at noon at the XL Center.