The score in an exhibition win over a Division II opponent means very little for a UConn team looking to rebuild a winning tradition. The scoreboard read 103-64 at the final buzzer, but the 40 minutes before were more telling of what the 2019 edition of UConn men’s basketball has to offer. Here are a few takeaways from Wednesday night’s win.
Backcourt leads the way
As many expected heading into the season, Alterique Gilbert and Christian Vital led the way for UConn. Gilbert posted a game high 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting. Though he’s spent a large portion of his college career on the sidelines, Gilbert was fearless in driving to the basket and had a smooth stroke from beyond the arc, making three of his six attempts.
Vital was his usual self. He was active on each end of the floor with 13 points and team highs in rebounds (8), assists (6) and steals (6). He and Gilbert combined for a perfect 8-of-8 from the charity stripe. The backcourt tandem set the tempo for the Huskies defensively with a combined 8 steals. UConn scored 39 points on 26 St. Michael’s turnovers. Head coach Dan Hurley’s one critique? He wants the tandem to get things going earlier in the game.
“They gotta get us going earlier,” Hurley said. “These guys are our best players. They’re senior guards. They’re experienced. We need those guys to give us really high level games every time they step on the court.”
Whaley, Adams provide boost off bench
Vital and Gilbert can only carry the team so far, even if they play the most minutes (54 combined on Wednesday). Brendan Adams, a sophomore, was the first man off the bench and instantly made his presence felt, especially in the fast break. Adams finished with 12 points with a 50% mark from the field and was a perfect 4-for-4 from the line. UConn finished with 30 points in transition and 20 steals.
Isaiah Whaley was a name Hurley mentioned early on as someone who needed to step up. He showed what he has to offer off the bench for the Huskies with a 14 point (7-9) performance. He corralled six boards and turned away five shots and even received a couple rounds of applause when he exited the game in the second half. His head coach credits him for putting in the required work in the offseason.
“I mean his whole body has changed,” Hurley said. “You see him he doesn’t look like the same guy. We made an adjustment with his shooting, just worked with him on his technique a bit… He brings a lot of value right now to the program.”
Hurley added that what Whaley contributed is how he can be effective going forward.
While the final box score shows the Huskies outrebounded the Purple Knights 48-37, it was a different story at the half. UConn trailed 26-25 in the category after 20 minutes and were led by 6-foot-2 Vital with five (finished with eight). The addition of redshirt freshman Akok Akok alongside 6-foot-11 Josh Carlton was supposed to restore a size advantage down low, but the pair combined for 11 boards. Hurley, however, was not too worried about his big men, as he’s confident in a frontcourt that averages 6-foot-9 and over 200 pounds per man.
“They out-hustled us to a couple in the second half, which, that’s not going to show great on tape,” Hurley said. “That’ll be uncomfortable when we talk about that. I think we have a chance to be a good rebounding team. We have enough size to be a good rebounding team.”
The team announced before first tip that Richie Springs would redshirt his first year in Storrs. James Bouknight did not play as he awaits an official suspension following a Sept. 27 motor vehicle incident that led to an arrest. That left Jalen Gaffney and Akok amongst the new guys. Akok showcased his full arsenal of abilities with nine points and five rebounds, capped off by a late game ally-oop. The most impressive aspect of the 6-foot-9 center’s performance was his four blocked shots, trailing Whaley by one swat. He did, however, give up five three-pointers to St. Michael’s forward Walker Storey.
“I think the challenge for him is he’s so talented and a talented, long, athletic, freak-ish kind of guy, just trying to find those couple things you want to focus on to be an expert at,” Hurley said of the lengthy freshman. “He should be a defensive freak for us.”
Jalen Gaffney, who recently returned to practice following an ankle injury, made his debut in the first half, but showed his rust as he was held scoreless until after halftime. He finished with just the one make on four attempts and was 1-of-2 from the free throw line. He added three rebounds, an assist and a steal to his final stat line.
Kevin Arnold is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @karnold98.