Gibbs, Huskies outlast Memphis for big AAC win
STORRS – The situation was nothing new for UConn’s Sterling Gibbs.
In his four-year college basketball career, which has spanned three teams, he’s had tough games like the one he had on Tuesday against Temple, a night where he shot 1-of-8 and allowed his man to score the game-winning basket.
With his experience, though, he did not need a stern talking to by his coach, or look to motivational quotes to shake off the stench of that disappointing performance. He instead took an old school approach heading into Saturday’s game against Memphis.
“I honestly was just in the gym,” Gibbs said. “I came back ready to focus on finishing, focus on getting jumpers up. I was just getting reps up, and making sure I stayed on top of my game. Even though I missed a lot of twos, a lot of threes, I knew I’d eventually be able to make them.”
That work paid off, as he efficiently scored a season-high 26 points on 7-of-11 shooting, 5-of-7 from three, and 7-of-8 from the foul line. Most importantly, with the Huskies down one in the final minute, Kevin Ollie put the game in his hands.
Gibbs rewarded his coach for showing that faith in him. He drove hard, drew a foul, and knocked down both free throws for a one-point lead with 43 seconds left.
The Huskies would never trail again, outlasting Memphis, 81-78, in gaining an entertaining and important AAC win at Gampel Pavilion.
“We’re down one, we wanted to go for a two-for-one, and drew up a quick play at the end,” Ollie explained. “He got fouled and made the two free throws. They went zone, and his eyes lit up. I’m very proud of his execution at the offensive and defensive end.”
There’s little question Gibbs likes to create his own shot, especially late in games. Last week, he hit multiple shots late in a win at Tulane. UConn hopes his effort against Temple was just an aberration.
“Without a doubt (I want the ball late),” said Gibbs, who started his career at Texas, and followed it with two years at Seton Hall. “(Ollie has) put full trust in me, no matter if I’m making or missing shots. He put the ball in my hands and told me go.”
Gibbs added two more free throws to help seal the win.
Shaq Goodwin, who spoiled UConn’s Senior Day last season with a basket in the final seconds, scored 23 points in only 22 minutes as he was limited due to foul trouble. He fouled out with 1:09 left, and also missed the last 16 minutes of the first half because of fouls. Unquestionably, the considerable time he spent on the bench was a major turning point in the Huskies’ favor.
“What hurt us the most was Shaq being in foul trouble in the first half,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “He had a silly first foul and not having him in there was awfully tough.”
“I think that hurt them a lot, because Shaq’s a beast,” noted Gibbs. “He’s a handful. They have some good shooters as well (Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant Jr.), so you can’t help too much on Shaq or he’ll kick it out and they’ll knock down shots. We wanted to attack him, get him into foul trouble, and out of the game.”
UConn received very solid, and somewhat surprising, contributions from Kentan Facey and Phil Nolan in the paint. They combined for 14 points (5-of-7 shooting), nine rebounds, and five blocks in place of an injured Amida Brimah. Obviously, expecting that stat line regularly is unreasonable, but something in that range would make Ollie ecstatic while UConn waits for Brimah’s return.
“Our bigs were huge for us in the second half,” Ollie said. “We got 14 and nine out of our guys, which was great. Kentan had five blocks, and for us to get five blocks without Amida, that’s big time. If we can keep that up, get better playing defense, not foul as much, and rebound the basketball better (UConn was out-rebounded, 42-29), we can win some games.”
One way to win games is by making foul shots, which the Huskies excelled at Saturday. They connected on 16 of 20 attempts in the second half, including Gibbs’ eventual game-winner. UConn did not record a field goal in the final 3:36, but was able to escape thanks to its effort at the line.
Rodney Purvis had 13 points, and has scored in double figures every game this season. Jalen Adams came off the bench and added a big jumper late, while Shonn Miller fought as hard as he could down low against Goodwin. In all, it was a strong team effort for the Huskies, now 11-4, 2-1 in the league.
“We learned from our mistakes against Temple, and played more aggressive, and it paid off in the end,” Ollie said.
Most notably Gibbs, starting with some old fashion work, and ending with a hard fought drive and critical foul shots.