After an Alterique Gilbert buzzer beater sent the game to overtime, the UConn men’s basketball team fell just short in overtime, falling to rival Cincinnati, 74-72, on Saturday night.
Gilbert led the Huskies with 18 points, no two bigger than an acrobatic floater to tie it up as time expired. Christian Vital notched his second double-double of the season with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and senior Jalen Adams did a little bit of everything, scoring 16 with six assists and five rebounds, though he fouled out with five minutes remaining in regulation.
“The guys showed the type of grit you like to see,” head coach Dan Hurley told the media after the game. “Especially in the first year of what we’re trying to build here. That unwillingness to give in, and to stay in the game against the best team in the league, the bully in the conference. Obviously, the result was devastating, but you feel unbelievably respectful of that team.”
UConn (10-7, 1-3 The American) had the opportunity to tie or take the lead at the end of overtime. A pair of Cincinnati (14-3, 3-1) misses at the free throw line handed the Huskies the ball down two with 7.8 seconds left.
With no timeouts, Vital had trouble with the handle, losing the ball briefly before giving a shove with his forearm to the defender. The referee, standing right over the play, called an offensive foul on Vital, and UConn was therefore unable to get a shot off to tie.
“This one hurt,” Vital said. “This one hurt. Everyone fought. It’s just tough to end the game like that. I’ve just got to make a better read.”
With now just one victory in four conference games, this season has quickly unraveled for the Huskies. But playing in the newly-refurbished and raucous Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati, and entering as double-digit underdogs, they certainly can’t be disappointed by their effort.
“Our team is just growing a lot more,” Adams said after the game. “We’re learning to take the highs with the lows in the course of a game. We kind of dug down deep inside and never really quit, so I’m really proud of our team.”
The Bearcats led for much of the first half, cashing in on some sloppiness from UConn, which turned it over 15 times. But each time Cincy made a run, the Huskies responded with one of their own, and trailed by just one at the half.
It was the same story in the second, as Cincinnati jumped out to an 11-point lead with 12 minutes remaining. But eight unanswered from UConn got them right back into it.
Whistles certainly dictated an otherwise-thrilling game. The Bearcats took 38 free throws compared to UConn’s 16. Four different Huskies were in foul trouble for much of the game, and Adams, who had been UConn’s best player all night, picked up his fifth foul with 2:24 left. Vital was called for a flagrant foul down the stretch, and of course, was called for the offensive foul to end UConn’s hopes.
“We did that with our best player in foul trouble, in a game where we committed a lot of fouls, and that really physical team didn’t,” Hurley said.
UConn will have a chance for revenge on Feb. 24, taking on the Bearcats once again, and this time on their home turf at the XL Center.
“UConn should leave here thinking, ‘We’re going to kick their asses when they come to our place,'” Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin said after the game.
A devastating finish doesn’t erase the fight shown by the Huskies in Saturday’s game. Their head coach certainly took note.
“If we show up this way throughout the rest of the year,” Hurley said. “Then we can have a season that we can be proud of.”