Huskies head to Dallas
Ever since Alterique Gilbert went down in UConn’s win over East Carolina on Feb. 3, the Huskies have lost three straight games. After SMU beat Tulane at home on Jan. 26, the Mustangs have lost five straight games. Both teams are on bad streaks, but it’s SMU who has the advantage in today’s matchup for one reason—they’re the home team.
For those who are just waking up from a long sleep, UConn (13-12, 4-8 The American) has not won a road game this season. Ever since dropping an overtime thriller at Cincinnati, no game away from Connecticut has even been a close contest. But the Mustangs (12-12, 4-8 The American) have suffered three straight heartbreaking losses in the final seconds of the five-game losing streak—they lost on a buzzer-beater with one second left against Wichita St. on Jan. 30. Jahmal McMurray missed a game-tying 3-pointer with five seconds against Cincinnati on Feb. 2. USF hit a corner 3 with six seconds left in a Feb. 7 loss to USF.
For UConn, that could mean a greater chance to get a much-needed win. But there’s no word on Gilbert’s status and, if history is any indicator, the odds will not be in the Huskies’ favor. Though UConn beat SMU by 12 the last time they played on Jan. 10, that was at full strength and Jalen Adams scored 21 points.
The Mustangs are led in scoring by McMurray (17.7 points per game), who scored 22 points in SMU’s latest loss to Temple. SMU is one of the conference’s best teams in assists, and Jimmy Whitt Jr. is the Mustangs’ assist specialist, averaging 4.4 per game. Before Gilbert went down, he averaged 3.8 per game.
SMU is second in the conference in offensive rebounds, averaging 13.4 per game, but they are dead last in the conference in defensive rebounds with 23.3 per game. UConn is not much better off, averaging 24.8 defensive rebounds, per game, but their poor performance is largely due to slow first half starts. The Mustangs also have the worst 3-point defense in the country, allowing opponents to shoot, on average, 35.8 percent. UConn averages 35.3 percent from beyond the arc.
UConn is led in scoring and rebounding by Christian Vital, who averages 14 points per game and 6.1 rebounds per game.
An XL Center rematch
The last time UConn and Cincinnati (21-4, 10-2 The American) met at the XL Center, it was the American Athletic Conference semifinals. Many UConn fans regard it as the worst officiated game they’ve ever watched, and they have a point—there were 56 foul calls and 71 free throw attempts taken between the two teams. The Bearcats took 46 free throws and 47 field goals.
But that’s all in the past, of course. UConn nearly beat Cincinnati in overtime on Jan. 12, and the Huskies will have the advantage of being at home this time around. But, again, they will definitely be without Adams and potentially Gilbert, who sent the game into overtime with a layup at the buzzer. Gilbert scored 18 points that game and both Adams and Vital scored 16.
Cincinnati is the second-best team in the conference to Houston, boasting the second-best scoring defense (61.8 points per game allowed), the best rebounding offense (30.4 percent) and the best 3-point shooting offense (35.7 percent), all of which do not bode well for the Huskies. But the Bearcats have the second-worst 3-point shooting defense (35.2 percent) ahead of SMU.
Cincinnati will be a tough battle for the shorthanded Huskies if they cannot contain the 3-point shot. Tyler Polley and Sidney Wilson, whose playing time and importance has skyrocketed over the last two games, will be key factors on both sides of the ball. If Gilbert still does not play, they will need to work double time to take pressure off Vital on the offensive end.
The Bearcats are led in scoring by Jarron Cumberland, who averages 19.6 points per game. He dropped 27 points in Cincy’s recent 12-point win over Wichita State.