It wasn’t pretty, but the UConn men’s basketball team got back in the win column on Saturday, overcoming some cold shooting and defensive lapses to defeat Tulane, 87-71, at Gampel Pavilion.
It was a career night for center Josh Carlton, but as usual, it was the frontcourt that carried the Huskies to their 11th win of the season. Junior Christian Vital cemented his name in the record books, and senior Jalen Adams put on a clinic on the second half to lead his team to the win.
Vital hits 1,000
In an otherwise forgettable performance from the Huskies, it was a memorable night for junior Christian Vital, who reached 1000 career points on Saturday.
Vital secured the milestone in style, hitting a deep 3 at the 7:31 mark in the first half, which pushed UConn’s lead to 11. He becomes the 51st Husky in program history, joining Jalen Adams as the only current players in the club.
After the game, Vital reflected on his progression as a player since he arrived in Storrs three years ago
“When I came in as a freshman, I was just really young, really young and inexperienced,” Vital said. “My number was called kinda early in my college career, and from then I knew when it was my time to step up. I just tried to help the team as much as I could while still learning.”
Vital had another terrific all-around game, driven by all-out effort plays that have become his calling card. He poured in an efficient 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, along with eight rebounds and three steals.
“For [Christian,] it’s just understanding your game, playing to your strengths,” said head coach Dan Hurley after the game. “You’ve got to be the best version of yourself, and Christian has been much more of that, and he brings a lot of value to the program when he does that.”
Jalen takes over
Vital reached the milestone, but it was senior Jalen Adams who absolutely took over the game. However, it was far from a pretty start.
The Huskies have gotten used to playing choppy, whistle-heavy games. But with just five total free throws between the two teams in the first half, Saturday’s game was much more free-flowing. It’s just that UConn’s offense wasn’t.
There was plenty of ball movement, but no one seemed eager to shoot the ball in the first half. Adams therefore pulled the trigger early and often, though without much success. The senior simply couldn’t find his range in the first half, shooting just 6-of-15 from the floor.
“Jalen can’t be afraid to throw up a 5-for-20,” Hurley said after the game. “If he misses his first two 3s, he’s got to continue to shoot them. Coaches really aren’t supposed to say this, but he’s got to take 18 to 20 shots game for us.”
Adams took his coach’s advice, and came out red-hot in the second. He shot 6-of-11 in the second, including 3-of-4 from deep. During an 11-0 UConn run that essentially put the game away at 62-46, Adams had nine. Hurley described Adams’ second half performance as a “First Team slash Player of the Year” level.
“When the other team gets two or three in a row, (Coach Hurley) gives me that eye contact to go make a play, be one of our ballers,” Adams said after the game. “That’s what I try to do. As long as we get the win. I don’t really care about the points.”
By the time he made a trademark acrobatic layup with 5:02 remaining, the Huskies had built a 21-point lead, all keyed by lights-out shooting from Adams.
He finished with a season high 31 points (13-of-26, 4-of-9 from 3) and also added five rebounds, three assists, and three steals. With 29 against Tulsa, that’s now 60 in the last two games for Adams.
As Adams was subbed off with 46 seconds remaining, Hurley wildly waved his arms to the crowd and pointed to his senior guard, begging for an applause fitting of Adams’ performance. The crowd made sure to do just that.
“I want to thank the crowd,” Hurley said. “That was an incredible turnout for a time change [the game was moved up due to weather], mid-January, when students are still coming back.
“Not exactly our finest week for UConn basketball. There’s been a lot swirling around the program, so it was important to come out, play well, and show some hope…I know it’s tough on our fans, but I was brought here for a reason. I hate to sound like Joel Embiid, but trust the process.”