For a team with high expectations and lofty goals for the 2019 season, they don’t play the first 20 minutes of games like it.
Two games into the season and the UConn men’s basketball team has yet to play a complete game from first tip to the final buzzer. The first half against Sacred Heart was sluggish, slow and unenthusiastic. It was deja-vu Wednesday night, minus the win.
“In a home game. Game 2,” head coach Dan Hurley said. “When your season is just beginning and you’re trying to put three years of ugly losing behind you, what an uninspiring, terrible way to start the game.”
Against the Pioneers, the Huskies senior backcourt’s slow start was hidden by a career night from Brendan Adams off the bench, while Sid Wilson was near-perfect from the floor in the first half.
UConn was not so fortunate against the Hawks, who opened the game with a 15-0 run and never looked back.
Adams scored eight of his career-high 15 points in the first half last Friday. He spent most of the opening half of the game on the bench in foul trouble, taking only one shot. Wilson, the other source of off-the-bench energy, didn’t score either. A few scattered ones and zeros made his first half stats look more like binary code than anything else.
Christian Vital was the most productive player for Hurley in the first half, scoring 11 points and grabbing 10 boards. Alterique Gilbert also entered the locker room with a double-digit point total, but the pair was an abysmal 5-of-22 from the floor. Over the first two first halves, they’ve shot 6-for-29, and 3-for-12 from deep.
“Can’t explain it,” Vital said. “Just wasn’t paying attention to detail … I’ll take that responsibility on me just not making sure the team wasn’t locked in enough. I’ll take that one.”
Tyler Polley, who looked “too last year-ish” against Sacred Heart, looked worse in the opening half Wednesday. He missed his lone shot attempt and was called for a foul in his 10 minutes. He woke up a bit after halftime, but by then it was too little too late from the junior.
“When you’re a junior, you have to put back-to-back halves together,” Hurley said. “A full game.”
Out of the entire group, Hurley was most happy with Akok Akok’s performance. The redshirt freshman big man scored eight of his 12 points before halftime, including a pair of threes. Hurley said it’s that “youthful exuberance” that will help fix the team’s early season woes. While Jalen Gaffney is working out some early-season kinks and James Bouknight finishes his suspension, that burden falls on Akok.
“I’m a big spark,” Akok said. “I feel like I’m an energy guy for the team. I’m all about the team. Trying to figure out ways to win.”
The Huskies don’t have much time to figure out their first-half issues. No. 15 Florida comes to Gampel Pavilion on Sunday, a huge test for a team that has yet to figure out its true identity. If Hurley’s group wants to right the ship the way they say, it’ll start with restoring their swagger.
“What it takes in a program when you’re trying to turn it around is special people,” Hurley said. “People that really believe in themselves and believe that they can play great and change the course of the program and be the guy that brings UConn back. It’s a self-belief. It’s a swagger. It’s a confidence that you have to have in sports.”