Men’s Basketball: Huskies open 2020, conference play with disappointing loss

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Christian Vital, who put the team on his back with 27 points in a win over NJIT, could not do the same against Cincinnati. UConn lost 67-51.  Photo by Eric Wang / The Daily Campus

Christian Vital, who put the team on his back with 27 points in a win over NJIT, could not do the same against Cincinnati. UConn lost 67-51. Photo by Eric Wang / The Daily Campus

When asked if he had any New Year’s resolutions, senior point guard Alterique Gilbert had a simple answer.

“Make the tournament.”

That goal took a hit on the first day of the new decade when UConn lost 67-51 to Cincinnati, the first game of conference play. The Huskies have now lost eight-straight games to the Bearcats and head coach Dan Hurley did not hold back.

“(It) gets you thinking that you need to shake things up a little bit, because that was brutal today, and embarrassing for anyone associated with UConn,” Hurley said after the game, as reported by the New Haven Register’s David Borges. “Everything’s in play.”

Christian Vital, who put the team on his back with 27 points in a win over NJIT, could not do the same against Cincy. After spending a large chunk of the second half on the bench in foul trouble, Vital finished with eight points, three assists, three rebounds and three steals to match.

The Huskies (9-4, 0-1 The American) were in trouble from the get-go. An abysmal 25.9% mark from the floor in the opening 20 minutes was half of what the Bearcats produced. Ball security problems arose once again with 11 out of 16 turnovers coming before halftime. The Huskies failed to reach the 20-point mark and trailed by 16 entering the locker room.

“We got hit in the mouth early,” Hurley said afterwards, as reported by the Journal Inquirer’s Neil Ostrout .

There were stark similarities to the 2017 season, and 2018 too. There was no offensive penetration, leading to bad looks late in the shot clock. There was no continuity on either side of the ball and Cincy had full control.

What it did not look like was a team in Year 2 of a program overhaul; a team that prides itself on hustle, grit and defense (outside of 14 blocks).

Cincinnati (8-5, 1-0 The American) opened the game on a 12-2 run, with the lone Husky basket coming via a Vital jumper. Jarron Cumberland, the preseason conference Player of the Year selection, was mostly absent from the run outside of a steal.

Without Cumberland, it was the Chris Vogt show. The 7-foot big man had five points over the stretch, including one of four Cincinnati three-point plays in the first half, and would finish with a game-high 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting.

Brendan Adams entered and hit a pair of threes, the first with the help of the glass, to bring the Huskies within seven at the 11:03 mark. That’s as close as they would get.

Cumberland, who would go on to score 15, and Vogt broke the game open and ignited a 17-9 run to close the half with the Bearcats leading 35-19.

Josh Carlton, who went scoreless with five rebounds in the first half, scored the first UConn basket of the second on a nice feed from Akok Akok under the hoop. Akok would finish with a usual Akok statline; eight points, nine rebounds, four blocks. It very well could have went unnoticed and lost in the fold of the mess, but it didn’t.

“I love the way Akok competed out there,” Hurley said, as reported by Borges. “I didn’t think we had many guys that can walk out of this one feeling real good about the way we represented ourselves, from me to the players.”

Akok and classmate James Bouknight provided the “infusion of youthful talent” that Hurley has been speaking of, but it was a little too late. Akok followed his third block with an alley-oop slam on the other end, with some help from Vital, to cap off UConn’s longest run of the game at eight points.

Bouknight was the first Husky to reach double-digit points (10), with Adams being the other (11), with 2:50 to play.

“We knew what was coming tonight,” Bouknight said afterwards, as reported by Borges. “I don’t think we prepared well for it in practice. At shootaround (Wednesday), we weren’t locked-in fully. But coach gave us all the keys, we just didn’t execute.”

This of course came after the Bearcats stretched their lead 16. At one point, Cincy led by 23 with the help of a 42-26 scoring advantage in the paint. UConn never lead and outside of the first tip, the game was never tied.

Though UConn won’t have another opportunity to play in an AAC opener before it departs for the Big East, something it’s won just twice in its seven-year stay in the conference, the Huskies will have a chance to bounceback this Saturday against South Florida.

The Bulls also opened conference play with a loss, 82-64 to SMU, and may face a different looking UConn team than they may be expecting.

“The leash is going to be a lot shorter,” Hurley said, as reported by Ostrout.


Kevin Arnold is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at kevin.arnold@uconn.edu. He tweets @karnold98.

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