After a spoiled comeback bid against Cincinnati last Sunday, the UConn men’s basketball team will head to Kansas and take on Wichita State in hopes of snapping a five-game skid.
Both head coach Dan Hurley and the players were demoralized after a late 3-pointer by East Hartford’s Cane Broome helped seal Cincy’s 64-60 victory. Hurley didn’t start his usual five, opting instead for a shakeup of the starters to send a message for what he expects from his programs.
“That’s culture, that’s character,” Hurley said. “All the things you’ll need to develop here, besides increasing the talent, just getting older and better. The culture, the character, stuff like that needs great improvement and something we fight for every day as a coaching staff.”
UConn (13-14, 4-10 The American) played probably their best game of the year against the Shockers (13-13, 6-8 The American) on Jan. 26, a rousing 80-60 win at Gampel Pavilion with the best atmosphere over the last few years. Christian Vital led all scorers with 21 points and recorded five rebounds and five assists.
Wichita State also lost a heartbreaker in their last game, an 88-85 nail biter against Memphis at home. Four Shockers had double-digit games and Jaime Echenique had a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds, but Memphis’ Jeremiah Martin dropped 37 points.
It’s going to be tough for the Huskies because they are playing on the road, where they are winless. The only other time UConn went winless on the road was 1968-69, a year before Dee Rowe took over, where they went 0-12. It’s doubtful that UConn will lose to East Carolina on the road for their last game on March 10; if they lose to the Shockers and beat East Carolina, it will put the Huskies at just one road win for the first time since 2000-01. UConn won only two road games last season.
The Huskies have Alterique Gilbert back, but they’re still struggling to play a full 40 minutes—slow starts to the second half have been plaguing the Huskies all season. The only way UConn will win is if they can play hard in the first half and carry that momentum into the second half and build on it.
The offense is going to need to come up big as they did in the last game against the Shockers. Sidney Wilson and Tyler Polley combined for just eight points against Cincinnati, Gilbert went 5-for-18 from the floor and the Huskies went 3-for-17 from 3-point range. Gilbert may not have 20-point performances every night, but his growing leadership skills will naturally push the bout of offensive pressure onto guys like Vital, Wilson and Polley.
Wichita State has the second-worst field goal percentage and the third-worst 3-point percentage in the conference, which will help lighten the load on the defense. The Shockers’ Markis McDuffie averages 18.2 points per game, the fourth-best in the conference, so it will be crucial to contain him. The next highest-ranking Shocker is Samajae Harris-Jones, who averages 12.3 points per game.
UConn is still led by Vital, who averages 14 points per game, and Gilbert, who averages 12.6 points per game.
The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 and will begin at 7 p.m. EST.