UConn was never out of the game on the scoreboard until the final minute-plus, but it never really felt like the Huskies had a legitimate chance to pull this one out.
UConn (8-5, 5-5 Big East) only led for 4:57, and after giving it up just under two minutes into the second half, never got it back, falling to Providence (10-10, 6-8 Big East) 70-59.
“They were tougher, they played better than us, coached better than us,” head coach Dan Hurley said. “Tough loss, obviously, pretty demoralized group right now, and it doesn’t get any easier in this new league. We better get a lot tougher, and we better get back to playing much better defense because with what we can do offensively, our margin of error to win any game in this league moving forward is very, very narrow and very thin. And if we’re not tough and defensive-minded, with all of our offensive deficiencies, it’s gonna be tough sledding.”
One of the biggest issues was the team’s inability to stay out of foul trouble, picking up 23 to the Friars’ 13. It was the second-highest total this season in Big East play, only losing out to the 26 foul performance in UConn’s second time out vs. Creighton.
This season, there has been a direct correlation between fouls and the outcome of the game for the Huskies in Big East play. UConn has played 10 conference games this season and split them five-and-five, with all five losses being the five games in which the team committed the most fouls—at least 19 fouls per game.
The Huskies conceded 27 free throws and were lucky the Friars only made 18 of them. Meanwhile, UConn only shot nine free throws, and to make it worse, only made five of them, leaving them with a minus-13 disadvantage from the charity stripe. They lost by 11.
UConn shot the ball fine from the field, finishing just above 40%, but were absolutely atrocious from three, making just 4-of-20 shots.
The biggest culprit was Tyler Polley, who had yet another really poor showing all around. Polley started but played just 20 minutes, the seventh-most on the team, and shot 2-for-12 from the field and 1-for-8 from three, ending with a line of five points and two rebounds. Polley has been a really explosive scorer at times, but he’s now gone five straight games without breaking double-digits for nearly a month.
Aside from Polley, the rest of the team went 3-for-12 from three — nothing special, but nothing that will alone lose a game. But when the person taking the most shots seemingly can’t buy a bucket, that hurts.
Now, it’s not like Polley was the only one on the team struggling. With James Bouknight out, UConn has really struggled to find consistent guard play, and that continued on Wednesday.
Jalen Gaffney, who got the start at point guard, was also underwhelming in his 16 minutes of play, contributing four points on 2-of-5 shooting (0-for-1 from three), one assist, two turnovers and four fouls.
R.J. Cole, who came off the bench but played nearly twice as many minutes as Gaffney, had a solid game, scoring a team-high 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting from the field and 1-of-3 from three. He also dished out a team-high six assists but turned the ball over a team-high five times. He also only made three of his six free throws, continuing to be underwhelming from the charity stripe.
Tyrese Martin, like Cole, was solid but nothing crazy, scoring 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting from the field and 2-of-5 from three. He grabbed a team-high nine boards, picked up one steal and one block and turned the ball over twice, ultimately fouling out in the final minute.
Martin was one of two UConn players to foul out, the other being Isaiah Whaley, who scored four points in 29 minutes, grabbed six boards and recorded one steal and one block.
Adama Sanogo did a lot of the heavy lifting down low, as he was one of the few bright spots for the Huskies. In a season-high 28 minutes, Sanogo scored nine points on 4-of-9 shooting, grabbed eight boards, blocked five shots and recorded two steals.
Fellow freshman Andre Jackson also saw a lot of playing time in his second game back from injury, scoring six points on 3-of-6 shooting from the field and 0-of-3 shooting from three while also picking up four rebounds, two assists and one really nice chase-down block.
“Being able to get those guys valuable minutes, I guess for the stretch run of the season and the long term health of the program, what we’re trying to do here, it’s probably like the only good thing that came from today,” said Hurley.
UConn has seen its tournament hopes dwindle after a hot start, losing four of its last five. Time is running out to turn it around, and with Bouknight’s return still in question, the Huskies need to find another consistent scoring threat, and fast.
The next time out for the Huskies will be on Saturday, Feb. 13 when they’ll travel to Ohio to take on Xavier. After that, UConn won’t have to wait long for a chance at revenge on Providence, hosting the Friars on Tuesday, Feb. 16.