Things starting to look (slightly) up for UConn men
STORRS – Slowly, but surely, the UConn men’s basketball team, and its small rotation of eight, is showing progress.
The Huskies have won two straight by an average of 14.5 points, including Wednesday night’s 73-59 thumping of Temple at Gampel Pavilion, arguably their best performance of the season. Ravaged by injuries and still below .500 at 7-9, it would take a miracle for UConn to get an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. But, with the AAC Tournament scheduled for Hartford this season, it’s not a stretch to say the Huskies can at least make a good run at it. They showed why Wednesday in a game which coach Kevin Ollie accurately called an “us win.”
Kentan Facey has made the most of his extra minutes this season, especially against Temple, scoring a career-high 23 points on a highly efficient 9-of-11 from the field, and also had 10 rebounds. After a tough three years, Facey is ending his college career in style.
“I feel like I’m playing at a different level than I was,” said Facey, who is shooting an impressive 59 percent from the floor.
Amida Brimah also owned the paint, blocking six shots, and scoring 13 points, including dunks to start each half.
In an era where the three-pointer has become the focal point, UConn only made 4-of-12 against Temple. Focusing on the paint first is considered unconventional now, but Ollie sees it as UConn’s best hope. The Huskies entered Wednesday shooting a less-than-stellar 30 percent from three.
“I like (only taking) 12 threes,” Ollie said. “I’m old school. I don’t like taking 12 or 13 threes.”
UConn also received a strong all-around performance from Jalen Adams at the point, as he finished with 11 points, 12 assists, and seven rebounds. And, very importantly, for not just this season but future ones, freshman Vance Jackson continues to show signs of improvement. He notched 10 points, five rebounds, and two three-pointers.
Most notable was UConn finishing with 18 assists, as players moved without the ball and didn't fall back into one-on-one isolations that have little chance to succeed.
“We have to keep playing this way, that’s my main thing” Ollie said. “It looks like they’re learning that. We’re sharing the basketball, we’re playing with enthusiasm and effort, and playing for each other.”
Two seasons ago, UConn struggled in the regular season and had no chance at an NCAA Tournament at-large berth. But with the AAC Tournament in Hartford, the Huskies went on a memorable run, led by Rodney Purvis and Ryan Boatright. They won one game at the buzzer, and the next in a stirring comeback before falling in the finals to a stacked SMU team.
A similar type of week is UConn’s best hope at this point. There’s a little more hope right now than at this time last week.
“We’re getting better,” Purvis said. “And we just want to get (even) better.”