Huskies improve to 6-1 after 97-75 win over UMass-Lowell. Big match up with Arizona on deck Sunday at the XL.
STORRS - OK, so that’s what an offense looks like.
On Tuesday night, I took a trip up to the little city in the hills, Storrs, to take in a UConn men’s basketball game as they took on UMass-Lowell.
Good vibes have been coming out of the UConn media camp, including from our own Patrick Tiscia, so I wanted to see what all the buzz was about.
For the past couple of years, the Huskies have at times been unwatchable, especially on the offensive side of the court with each possession seemingly going down to the last few seconds on the shot clock with an inevitable bad shot.
I wanted to see a couple of things.
That buzz that folks have talked about. A passionate and involved head coach and players who played like they would run through a wall for said coach. Oh yes, some offense.
Most of my curiosities were satisfied in the Huskies' 97-75 win over a team they should have beat by 25 (if not more) behind a balanced scoring effort from Christian Vital (19), Jalen Adams (19), Aterique Gilbert (15) and Josh Carlton (15).
UConn now owns a 6-1 record, their best start since the ’13-‘14 season.
Carlton and Gilbert stuck out for me at times with both showing the promise they had held that until this year for various reasons had not come to fruition. Inside, Carlton played a tough, physical game, something UConn will need desperately when they play against big strong team like Arizona, a team that visits the XL Center on Sunday.
Heck, the Huskies need big strong inside play to compete in the AAC once conference play starts on January 2, 2019. When was the last time teams like Cincinnati, Memphis or Temple didn’t have their way inside against UConn?
Carlton scored 15 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots in nearly 20 minutes of action.
In the opening 12 minutes of the game, all was right in Huskies' world. The passes were crisp and plentiful and after Vital connected on three consecutive three-pointers, the lead was 30-9 and this looked like an early rout.
From that point until half time though, the ball movement ended, and the River Hawks crawled back to within 10 at the half at 44-34.
The head coach had mixed feelings.
“I like the way we shared the ball,” Hurley said. “Twenry-two assists. It started sticking (the ball) at the end of the first half when we had a chance to go by 20 points at halftime, but we showed our immaturity. We’re just not used to being in advantageous situations like that badly.”
In the second half, Adams, who had been limited to just six points in the first 20 minutes, took over with several sensational drives to the basket as the home team's lead went back up to 18 off a coast-to0-coast Adams bucket that showed why he can be so dangerous.
Adams came up with a steal and had a River Hawks defender in front of him, running to get back and defend. Adams weaved back and forth behind the defender, leaving him lost as to where the Huskies star was.
His right-handed layup was good and even though he missed the free throw, the message was clear. There will be times this season that Adams will need to force his will on his opponents for the good of his team.
UConn would not let UMass-Lowell back in this one in the second half but not because they played shut down defense. They simply wore their opponent down with superior athleticism and skill on the offensive end.
The River Hawks connected on 10-of-24 three-point attempts to keep themselves in the game with most being off wide-open looks, an area UConn will have to improve on and fast.
“In the end,” Hurley said, “I think it was a dreadful defensive performance. If we don’t get better at that end of the court quickly, we’re going to be in deep trouble beginning on Sunday.”
So, as I left Storrs last night, I had seen what I had hoped to see. A new energy from the man at the top, more offense and a slight buzz from a Tuesday night announced crowd of just over 5500.
Sunday afternoon will be important, but not season defining. There is still a steep learning curve for this team as they figure out how to be a consistent and cohesive unit.
There will be more losses, but if the lessons learned in practice take shape on the court, this could be a pretty unique 2018-2019 campaign.