Huskies’ depth at guard a huge plus

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - Sports - By David Borges

STORRS — The point guard is a for­mer Mc­Don­ald’s All- Amer­i­can, a shifty ball­han­dler and elite play­maker who draws some com­par­isons to Kemba Walker.

The shoot­ing guard is as hot and cold as any­one around — but when he’s hot, look out! And he’s pretty good on the boards, too.

Then there’s the savvy grad trans­fer who pro­vides vet­eran lead­er­ship and can truly fill up a box score, and a fresh­man who doesn’t play like a fresh­man at all.

Oh, and of course, don’t for­get Jalen Adams — the best player on the team and prob­a­bly the en­tire Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence, as well.

UConn, which hosts UMKC on Sun­day at Gam­pel Pav­il­ion ( 5 p. m., SNY) has the deep­est back­court in the league and one of the deep­est in the coun­try this sea­son. It’s a huge de­par-

ture from a year ago, when in­juries and other fac­tors left the Huskies with just three true guards for most of the sea­son.

This year’s depth is im­per­a­tive for Dan Hur­ley, who had one of the deep­est back­courts in the coun­try last sea­son at Rhode Is­land.

“It’s huge for us,” said Hur­ley. “It’s rare in the first year of a re­build where you get to have the depth at such crit­i­cal po­si­tions. My par­tic­u­lar style of play ... is guardori­ented. So much of it’s pred­i­cated on putting pres­sure on the op­po­nent’s of­fense, ex­tend­ing the de­fense and get­ting the ball down the court quickly. To be able to have that in the first year, and to have older play­ers, too, it’s a key.”

When Al­terique Gilbert, the afore­men­tioned for­mer Mc­Don­ald’s All- Amer­i­can point guard, went down with a shoul­der in­jury last sea­son, the Huskies’ guard depth took a hit. All that was left was Adams, Chris­tian Vi­tal and grad trans­fer Ant­woine An­der­son, who was brought in to be a role player off the bench but wound up play­ing more than 31 min­utes per game. Adams led the league with 38.4 min­utes per game and Vi­tal wasn’t far be­hind at 34.4 in league play.

It all added up to a hot mess ( and cer­tainly helped has­ten Kevin Ol­lie’s dis­missal).

Now, with five tal­ented guards healthy and at his dis­posal, Hur­ley can al­lo­cate the min­utes bet­ter. And that will al­low the Huskies to play an up­tempo style more, and not have to worry about play­ers wear­ing down come Fe­bru­ary and March.

“It def­i­nitely takes a lot of pres­sure off us,” said Gilbert, “know­ing that we’ve got a lot of back­court mates that can make plays and cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for each other.”

In Thurs­day night’s sea­son- open­ing, 80- 70 win over More­head State, Gilbert and Vi­tal each played 30 min­utes and fresh­man Bren­dan Adams played 20 off the bench. Jalen Adams dealt with foul trou­ble all night and played just 22 min­utes, which forced grad trans­fer Tarin Smith to

play 31 — about five more than Hur­ley would have liked, the coach con­fessed af­ter­wards.

Smith cer­tainly made the most of his min­utes, scor­ing 12 points, dol­ing out four as­sists and grab­bing four re­bounds. The 6- foot- 3 guard also picked up a charge and played in­tense de­fense.

Hur­ley knew what he was do­ing when he wooed Smith to fin­ish his ca­reer with a sea­son at UConn. Smith had played for Bob Hur­ley Sr. at St. An­thony High in New Jer­sey and played against Dan Hur­ley when Hur­ley coached URI and Smith was at Duquesne. Smith was named the At­lantic- 10’ s Sixth Man of the Year last sea­son.

“He’s a win­ning player,” Hur­ley said. “He does so many things for you. He’s got a nose for the ball, he’s strong, he’s ath­letic, you can put him on the other team’s best perime­ter player. He can get in the paint, spray the ball around, fin­ish at the rim.”

Bren­dan Adams hit just two shots Thurs­day night, but they were both well­timed 3- poin­t­ers in the sec­ond half as UConn kept pesky More­head State at bay. Adams ini­tially pledged to Hur­ley at URI but de- com­mit­ted and joined him in Storrs af­ter Hur­ley re­placed Ol­lie in March.

Vi­tal didn’t shoot well on Thurs­day but grabbed eight re­bounds. He’ll con­tinue to be a spark. And Jalen Adams, de­spite his lim­ited min­utes, still scored 16 points.

Then there was Gilbert. He be­gan the game with a pretty feed to Josh Carl­ton for a fast- break layup and had four as­sists within the first 10 min­utes. That’s all he fin­ished with, but he also hit a pair of 3- poin­t­ers, fin­ished with 15 points and showed the sell­out crowd what it’s been miss­ing the past two sea­sons, when Gilbert’s been lim­ited to just nine to­tal games due to shoul­der woes.

“It felt great, just to have the op­por­tu­nity to be back out there,” Gilbert said. “I felt blessed. I thank my team­mates for giv­ing me a lot of en­ergy and pick­ing me up.”

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