Vital sparks Huskies in rout of Wichita State
STORRS – Christian Vital, to say the least, is one of the more confident players you will come across.
Every shot he takes he thinks is going in, leading to an, at times, questionable shot selection, which has been publicly challenged by UConn coach Dan Hurley. After last season, in a move that was questioned by the media and UConn’s fan base, he declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft. After receiving little interest, returned to Storrs for his junior season.
His confidence and belief in himself, though, is what led him to reach the 1,000-point club last week against Tulane. And it’s no surprise that Vital had zero doubt his 30-foot three-pointer – the signature moment of UConn’s impressive 80-60 win over Wichita State – was good all the way.
“Of course,” Vital smirked when asked if he thought the shot, which gave the Huskies a 43-28 lead, was going in. But more importantly than that three was the aggression he played with, netting 13 points, three rebounds and three assists in the half. In total, he finished with 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including 5-of-8 from three. He added five assists, five rebounds and had no turnovers.
His coach has been taking notice.
“His growth has been pretty impressive,” Hurley said. “You love coaching guys that want to enter the coliseum with you and are willing to lay it all on the line and compete their tail off every possession. That dude’s a warrior. He’s developing into a really good player.”
When Vital arrived at UConn, he was far down the depth chart, but due to injuries and ineffective play from others, he found himself seeing more playing time than expected. He's never given up his spot. He’s not tallest (6-foot-2), fastest, or most athletic player. But he won’t be denied.
“If you stick with something, stay consistent and have a goal, anything can be attained,” said Vital, who has improved both his overall (46 percent) and three-point shooting (42 percent) this season. “If you allow other people, allow yourself to doubt you it could go the other way.”
Before the game, he was honored with a commemorative basketball for his 1,000 career points and received a nice ovation from the Gampel Pavilion crowd.
“It was humbling. There’s a lot of people on that list, my teammate Jalen (Adams), a lot of guards, Kemba (Walker)…It’s an honor to be on the list with them now.”
Adams himself had a very strong game with 19 points and 12 rebounds. UConn (12-8, 3-4 AAC) received a scare when Alterique Gilbert hurt his left shoulder fighting through a screen early in the second half, but Hurley believes it will not be a long-term injury like his previous ones. The three UConn guards combined for 11 assists and only three turnovers.
Their passing opened the lanes for Tyler Polley, Josh Carlton and Eric Cobb, who combined for 25 points and 17 rebounds.
“That was a solid thumping they put on us tonight,” said Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall, whose team is now 8-11 with an eight-year NCAA Tournament streak in serious peril.
UConn, meanwhile, has now won three out of four and its team chemistry is clearly growing. Adams and Vital have played together a while now and their comfort level is very apparent.
“Playing with each other, knowing each other, we’ve formed that partnership where every time I am in transition, I know 100 percent of the time he’s going to be on that right wing, either in the corner or (on the side) open for a three,” Adams said, a senior. “Today, there were a lot of plays where I threw it cross-court to him and he made the shot. It’s a good duo with my little bro over there.”
Vital heard Adams’ “little bro” description, laughed and yelled “I am the big bro.”
Whether he is or not, you know Vital is confident in his belief.