Rough end to regular season for UConn men
STORRS – Twenty-five minutes after UConn’s regular season mercifully came to an end, coach Kevin Ollie reflected on how difficult this campaign has been, and tried to echo some hope. Key word: tried.
“Our season is not over with,” Ollie said following a 67-47 crushing by Cincinnati at Gampel Pavilion on Sunday. ”Everybody forgets what happened if we go out there and win the AAC Tournament and that’s what we’re focused on. Everybody knows what they have to do.”
That they do. The Huskies reached the tournament finals two seasons ago and won it last year. However, it’s hard to envision them winning four games in four days even though it’s in Hartford, considering Jalen Adams’ lingering ankle injury and the team’s habit of going long stretches without scoring.
Rodney Purvis, who was honored Sunday on Senior Day along with Kentan Facey and Amida Brimah, played a big role in both of those tournaments. He’s trying his best to keep a positive outlook.
“Honestly, everyone is the same now, it’s 0-0,” said Purvis, who led UConn with 15 points. “The best team could lose on the first day and it would be all over for them. And the worst team can keep winning. I feel like this is a restart for us.”
This latest defeat left the Huskies at 14-16, and, in order to qualify for even the NIT, they need to win a minimum of three games this week at the AAC Tournament. They’re staring at the program’s first losing season in 30 years when they went 9-19 in Jim Calhoun’s first season. And with 9,331 fans in attendance, it marked the first time since then that UConn failed to sellout a game on campus or in Hartford.
Purvis, Facey, and Brimah are the only players left from the 2014 championship roster. That time feels a lot longer than three years ago.
“It’s been difficult for everybody in this whole state,” acknowledged Ollie. “We’ve had a lot of setbacks. It’s made me a better coach, a better man. There’s been a lot of times where you feel like you may not want to give it your all, but you stand up, you be a man, and give it your best, no matter what you have. I think all of this pain can be recycled. And that’s the nutshell of it.
“We’ve got to get better, (from) recruiting, the whole program, coaches, and players. Nobody wants to go through a season like this.”
Sunday’s loss was a microcosm of the season for the Huskies. Adams struggled through 29 minutes on a sprained left ankle, while Vance Jackson sat out after suffering a concussion Wednesday at East Carolina. The injury carousel, which began with Alterique Gilbert and Terry Larrier suffering season-ending injuries right at the start of the campaign, continues to circle. Facey, Adams, and Christian Vital combined to shoot 4-of-24.
Cincinnati (27-4, 16-2 AAC), meanwhile, took full advantage, crushing the Huskies with 17 offensive rebounds and 17 second chance points. Gary Clark led the way with 17 points and 14 rebounds for the 18th-ranked Bearcats, which overcame 36-percent shooting thanks to their relentless effort.
“We just have to keep believing and stay positive,” Ollie said. “Another season starts on Thursday."
That season begins with a first round matchup with last place USF, a team UConn beat by 21 on the road in January. The Huskies should win that game, but the way this season has gone, nothing can be considered a shoo-in. There’s microscopic hope for this season now.