When a team plays without two of its top three scorers, you learn how much depth a team has, and perhaps more importantly, how much heart. That heart was on full display on Sunday afternoon, albeit in a losing effort, as the UConn men’s basketball team fell to Memphis, 78-71, at the FedEx Forum. It was yet another road loss, but an encouraging one at that. Just not in the eyes of head coach Dan Hurley.
“At UConn, losses are unacceptable,” head coach Dan Hurley said after the game. “There’s no moral victories, there’s never a good loss or anything to feel good about when you walk out and lose by seven. It stings, it hurts and it’s not something we’re used to at the University of Connecticut.”
Senior Jalen Adams and junior Alterique Gilbert, who combine for 30 points a night on average, were both absent due to injuries. Adams, UConn’s leader on and off the court, missed his first game since spraining his MCL last Wednesday. Gilbert missed his fourth consecutive game with a shoulder injury.
Despite trailing by 16 early in the second half, the Huskies (13-11, 4-7 The American) stayed competitive throughout, pulling within four with under a minute to play before the Tigers (14-10, 6-5) shut the door at the free throw line. Tyler Polley helped replace a big chunk of the scoring, dropping 20 points on 4-of-7 from deep. In his first career start, redshirt freshman Sidney Wilson was impressive, shooting 6-of-11 for 16 points, six rebounds and three blocks.
“Two of my brothers went down,” Wilson said after the game. “I just felt that Coach put me in a position so I could step up and help my team win, so I just tried my best.”
The Tigers scored the game’s first nine points and never relinquished the lead. Kyvon Davenport led all scorers with 26 points, shooting an efficient 9-of-13 from the floor. Memphis star Jeremiah Martin was held to just 12 points but did add six assists.
Polley, who has struggled mightily at times this season with his 3-point stroke, caught fire from deep on Sunday. His 20 points were a season-high, and without Gilbert or Adams in the lineup, he’ll be relied on to hit that shot consistently to spread the floor.
“I know I’ve got to be more aggressive,” Polley said. “I know I’ve got to shoot the ball and not let the misses get to me. When I do that, good things happen.”
In the frontcourt, sophomore Josh Carlton had a tough night, limited to just 14 minutes due to foul trouble. As a result, senior Eric Cobb saw some extended minutes, turning in eight points and 11 rebounds, along with three turnovers in 26 minutes.
The Huskies remain winless on the road this season, 0-6 in true road games and 1-9 when playing outside of the XL Center or Gampel Pavilion.
After his critical opening remarks, however, Hurley did acknowledge the bright spots of the loss.
“I’m proud of the way we fought,” Hurley said. “To come in here with a seven-man rotation, most of which are young players, it gives us great hope moving forward. It sucks to lose, but to see your future playing well out there against some men, it was a good thing.”
Leading the way among the young Huskies was Wilson, who had easily his most complete performance in a UConn uniform. In what has been an up-and-down season, Wilson has already shown a knack for collapsing in the paint and blocking shots, adding three more to that tally on Sunday. His growing confidence is also encouraging for Hurley and company, as he bounced back from an ugly 2-of-9 showing against Temple to shoot over 50 percent on Sunday.
“Sid’s earned it with his attitude and his practice every day,” Hurley said. “He was being a baby 10 days ago, two weeks ago, but we had a great meeting and his whole practice mindset has changed.”
The Huskies do return home next, but things don’t get any easier with No. 12 Houston coming to town on Thursday at the XL Center.