UConn wastes great chance at MSG
NEW YORK – When defining Akok Akok’s value to UConn, look no further than the first half of the Huskies’ battle against Indiana in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
The 6-foot-9 freshman, when he was on the floor, was all over the place. He blocked four shots, altered a few others, grabbed three rebounds, and nailed a three. UConn led by 10 points and put together its best stretch of basketball so far this season in a dominating 15-2 run, highlighted by Akok’s presence, Tyler Polley’s outside shooting, and Josh Carlton in the paint.
Then all hell broke loose. Akok committed his second foul with 4:57 left in the half and coach Dan Hurley was forced to sit him. Indiana promptly ran the Huskies off the floor, going on an 18-3 run which featured three-pointers, lay-ups, free throws, and a swarming defense that suffocated UConn.
The Huskies were never able to regain their early hot form and lost a sloppy and frustrating, 57-54, decision to the Hoosiers.
UConn is now 5-3 and still trying to get over the hump in its rebuilding stage. This game was a great opportunity to do so against a team on the brink of the Top 25, but, just like in their overtime loss to Xavier, the Huskies could not overcome adversity, something they must do in order to take the next step.
“There were 25 different ways we could’ve won that game,” Hurley said. “We just reverted back to playing the way that won’t allow you to beat good teams.
“It will be a season filled with excruciating losses if we don’t take care of the ball better. If we want to have a great season, we have to win games like this.”
Despite shooting 41 percent, including 28 percent from three, the Huskies somehow had a chance to force overtime after Alterique Gilbert hit a 30-foot three - his only basket of the game - with 14 seconds remaining. UConn got the ball back, down three, but Christian Vital lost his dribble and Indiana recorded the steal and, ultimately, the victory, its ninth in 10 games.
A common theme in UConn’s three losses have been the struggles of Vital and Gilbert. As mentioned, Gilbert only made one basket (in nine attempts) and committed three turnovers in 27 minutes. Meanwhile, Vital finished with seven turnovers and made only two of eight shots for seven points. Simply, the Huskies can’t overcome performances like these, especially when they both have off nights.
“Al and I have to be better,” Vital said. “Those turnovers are on us.”
“They tried to do too much,” noted Hurley.
They were hardly on their own when it came to struggles, though. Underclassmen James Bouknight and Brendan Adams combined for no points and six turnovers in 32 minutes. Hurley pointed out that this was the type of game for older players, but the Huskies need contributions from their younger talent to win versus high-caliber opponents.
They did receive a solid game from Josh Carlton with 18 points and five rebounds. Sidney Wilson also provided a spark off the bench, including a big three-point play in traffic in the second half.
Somehow, the Hoosiers won despite have no players reach double figures in scoring. Joey Brunk tied for team-high honors with nine points, including a couple of important baskets late in the second half.
The Huskies have three very winnable games to wrap up the month against Saint Peter’s, New Hampshire and NJIT – all at home – prior to the start of conference play. Those games are good tune-ups to develop a rhythm offensively and also enhance chemistry.
This game against the Hoosiers was a big test and, while the Huskies did compete hard, they did not pass. It’s time for them to start winning games like this, no matter what adversity comes their way.