Men’s Basketball Notebook: It turns out shooting is important

UConn and Maryland in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament held at Mackey Arena on March 19, 2021 in West Lafayette, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

For the entire season, UConn’s Achilles’ heel has been shooting. It sounds so simple — to win games, the ball needs to go through the hoop. But it was never really that simple for the Huskies. 

UConn never was an elite shooting team. UConn oftentimes wasn’t even a good shooting team. At the end of the day though, despite never developing a consistent scoring presence, the Huskies managed to not only win consistently but be one of the best teams in the Big East. Saturday, however, the shooting struggles just became too much to overcome.

“I mean, I think it was a tough matchup for us,” UConn head coach Dan Hurley said. “We struggled against teams that switch a lot. There’s not a script when teams switch. It becomes a matchup ball. And just didn’t have a lot of guys that could really win one-on-one matchups.”

The first half was the stuff of nightmares for UConn. The Huskies took 39 shots … and made just nine of them. 9-for-39. That’s a 23.1% shooting percentage. UConn got so many shots because the Huskies absolutely dominated the offensive glass, grabbing 18 offensive rebounds — but those turned into just nine second-chance points.

“When you get 18 offensive rebounds in the first half and you miss that amounts of layups at the rim, I think it had a demoralizing effect on us,” Hurley said.

UConn had the height advantage and it showed in the rebounding column, just not the points one. When you’re getting a lot of offensive rebounds, it means you’re missing a lot of shots.

Photo by Michael Hickey/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

“It’s really frustrating,” UConn senior Isaiah Whaley said. “A lot of offensive rebounds and not really a lot of points from it. So that was really frustrating. But I’m proud of my team for being tough and keep on offensive rebounding, though.”

The three-point shooting was marginally better, going 4-for-12 from deep, but it was dwarfed by the Terps shooting 6-for-8 from three in the same span.

Not only was second-chance scoring a major problem, but the Huskies also had a hard time taking advantage of Maryland turnovers. Despite forcing five turnovers in the first half, UConn had just three points off those turnovers. Maryland, after forcing six turnovers, had 10 points off of them in the first half.

Things got a bit better for UConn in the second half and the shooting was actually on the good side. The Huskies went 12-for-26 from the field and 9-for-15 on two-point shots after going 5-for-27 from inside the arc in the first half. The three-point shooting just wasn’t where it needed to be to stage a comeback though, going 3-for-11 from deep.

It wasn’t ever enough to even bring it back to a one-score game, as the closest UConn got was within five — and it went right back to nine about 40 seconds later.

UConn had no particular standout player. Isaiah Whaley and Jalen Gaffney had solid games, but really, no one player could outweigh the team-wide struggles.

Even James Bouknight, who very well could have just played his last game in a UConn jersey, didn’t have the night expected of him. He still led the team in scoring with 15 points, but did so on just 6-of-16 shooting from the field, 1-of-6 shooting from three and 2-of-6 shooting from the free-throw line.

However, a lot of that had to do with the way the Terps defended him, rarely letting him get into the paint without being mobbed, preventing him from ever getting into a rhythm. Yes, Bouknight didn’t play particularly well, but Maryland and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Darryl Morsell made it extremely difficult for him, and that has to be acknowledged.

“James is a young player. James is a sophomore player, which is still a young player in college basketball,” Hurley said. “This was a big spot. Morsell is an excellent defender. Those guys he’s playing with at Maryland, those guys for the most part who were guarding today him were physical juniors and seniors. I think he was a little bit indecisive at times tonight.”

This game has a lot of parallels to UConn’s first loss of the season, the overtime thriller to Creighton, as well as UConn’s loss to the Bluejays in the Big East tournament semifinals.

UConn and Maryland in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament held at Mackey Arena on March 19, 2021 in West Lafayette, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

In the tournament just over a week ago, the Huskies went the final 6:08 without making a field goal. Just like against Maryland, shooting let them down. 

In the first loss of the season, it was less shooting and more free throws that were the downfall. UConn had a chance to ice the game at the free-throw line but missed both, allowing Creighton to push the game to overtime and eventually win. Saturday, the Huskies were 5-for-12 from the charity stripe. While that’s far from the only reason UConn lost, it made it that much more difficult to make up for the shooting deficiencies.

When it comes down to it, you can’t win if you don’t make shots.

On Saturday, UConn didn’t make shots.

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