It was a fierce showing of heart and athleticism for the University of Connecticut. While UConn students were braving the cold back in Connecticut, the team was battling to be the last one standing in the Bahamas at the Battle 4 Atlantis. After an intense double-overtime win for the Huskies, the team played Michigan State University, a team that was 4-1 in this matchup with their lone loss coming against the University of Kansas.
Michigan State 64, UConn 60
For the Huskies, injuries were not in their favor on Thursday. Isaiah Whaley, who fainted after the team’s thriller win over Auburn, was held out of Thursday’s game against Michigan State. With a player like Whaley who contributes mightily for the Huskies on the defensive end, this was a considerable loss. Tyrese Martin, a huge scorer for the team, was almost held out of Thursday after suffering a sprained left wrist. However, Martin was able to play, and had Martin not suited up for the team, the outcome could have been much worse.
Martin was one of the key players who kept UConn in the game until the final buzzer. With 16 points and 12 rebounds on the night, Martin electrified the crowd with tough finishes at the rim and a beautiful slam dunk to get the momentum on the Huskies’ side. While Martin was great, team success is always the most important for the senior and a close loss was certainly devastating for the team.
“We got to be able to maintain the same fight we had in the first half and maintain that through the whole game,” said Martin.
The big moment in Thursday’s matchup was a controversial foul call on UConn point guard R.J. Cole. The Huskies, who were up by one point, were frustrated as Cole appeared to hit the ball, but referees called the play in favor of the Spartans. While this was a key moment in the game, Hurley acknowledged that the team made many errors.
“We lost because we made a lot of mistakes and Michigan State did not,” said Hurley. “But yeah, I don’t understand what happened there.”
With late-game turnovers, poor offensive schemes, and bad fouling for the Huskies, the team was simply not able to get the ball rolling even with the efforts of Martin and an impressive 18 points from big man Adama Sanogo. The team would have to settle for a battle for third place against an unranked Virginia Commonwealth University squad.
UConn 70, VCU 63
If these previous matchups weren’t evident that this team enjoys itself some close games, this game definitely shows it. Fresh off a close loss to Michigan State University, this team was ready to come in and battle. Only this time, they were fully healthy.
“We’re going to fight the whole time,” said Whaley. “It doesn’t matter what the game looks like.”
Whaley was healthy in this matchup and played with spirit. The veteran big man put up 16 points, including a perfect shooting night from the three-point line on three attempts. The team certainly missed the contributions of Whaley and the big man wanted to be on the court contributing for his team. How better to show that love for his team than a tough and-one finish, where he punched the wall and showed heavy emotion in a killer performance.
“When that play happened, all the emotions of the whole time being here… just that play, feels good to finally fight hard and get the win,” said Whaley.
After the controversial call against him on Thursday, Cole was determined to play out of his mind for UConn and he did just that. A 26 point outing from the guard showed the full extent of what the fifth-year player was able to do for the team. Crazy layups and clutch three-point shots were just some of the ways to describe the guard’s great output on the scoring end.
The biggest takeaways from UConn’s set of games
While there were certainly some bright spots that the team can look forward to, there were certainly some things to work on. With heavy fouling and crucial turnovers occurring heavily throughout both games, the team has many things to polish before they are able to take the next step in how they perform on the court. Coach Dan Hurley knows what this team can do.
“We can be really good,” said Hurley. “We’ve got things to tie up…we got to grow up.”
It may not be easy, but this UConn team has the tools to elevate their game to new levels. Each player has been honest about their role and if this team can truly fix their mistakes, they have what it takes to compete. With the team set to return back to Connecticut to take on the University of Maryland Eastern Shore Hawks, they’ll be ready to strengthen their game and become the team that everyone knows they can become.