De­spite best ef­forts, Huskies fall to UCF

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

HART­FORD — They couldn’t stop Aubrey Dawkins, and for great stretches of the sec­ond half, couldn’t buy a bas­ket.

They couldn’t con­vert their 17 of­fen­sive re­bounds into many points, and, as usual, couldn’t take care of the ball very well.

But if noth­ing else, when UConn’s 65- 53 loss to UCF on Satur­day af­ter­noon at XL Cen­ter was over, the Huskies could look each other in the eye — some­thing they had a hard time do­ing the past cou­ple of days in prac­tice, on the heels of an ugly melt­down loss at South Florida on Wed­nes­day night.

“At least in that locker room ( on Satur­day),” coach Dan Hur­ley noted, “we could look at each other and not be ashamed of how we rep­re­sented the univer­sity and the pro­gram.”

This is where UConn stands right now — 9- 6 over­all, 0- 2 in the Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence ( for the third year in a row) and tak­ing pride in a 12- point loss at home to UCF.

“But, af­ter Wed­nes­day’s game and the shame and em­bar­rass­ment of our ef­fort, par­tic­u­larly in the last 25 min­utes of that one, the way we chal­lenged the guys about their ef­fort and com­pet­i­tive na­ture and char­ac­ter, from an ef­fort stand­point, I’m not sure we could have played much harder,” said Hur­ley. “The re­al­ity of it is, of­fen­sively and de­fen­sively, as a team we’re still pretty far away from where we need to be here. But I felt great about the ef­fort.”

Of course, this isn’t your stan­dard UCF team, ei­ther. The Knights are liv­ing up to their pre­sea­son billing as AAC cham­pi­ons, im­prov­ing to 12- 2 over­all and 2- 0 in league play.

Still, UConn out­re­bounded a team with one of the 40 tallest men in the world, 37- 23. And while the Hus- kies were grab­bing those 17 of­fen­sive boards, the Knights grabbed none. Zero. Zip. Nada.

But UConn was only able to con­vert that of­fen­sive glass­work into six points.

“Get­ting an of­fen­sive re­bound and there’s a 7- 6 guy there,” Hur­ley pointed out, “it’s hard to get the put­back.”

That 7- 6 guy, of course, is Tacko Fall. And while he didn’t fig­ure much in the box score ( three points, five re­bounds, two blocks) his mere pres­ence forced the Huskies into nu­mer­ous awk­ward shots and, ul­ti­mately, 32.2- per­cent shoot­ing

But the player with the

big­gest im­pact was Dawkins, the son of head coach Johnny Dawkins who’s had to sit out the past two sea­son due to trans­fer ( from Michi­gan) and in­jury. Dawkins, a 6- foot- 6 guard, scored 16 of his game- high 23 points in the lat­ter half on an as­sort­ment of 3point­ers, tough turn­around jumpers and ac­ro­batic dunks.

“He gave us a huge lift,” his proud fa­ther said, in an un­der­state­ment.

UConn got off to a 7- 0 start, but UCF coun­tered with a 9- 0 run of its own and led for most of the first half. The Knights upped their lead to as much as seven, but the Huskies went into the break trail­ing by just three ( 33- 30) thanks to the play of Al­terique Gil­bert, who sand­wiched a 3- pointer and a nifty, high- arch­ing run­ner be­tween a Fall free throw over the fi­nal minute

Gil­bert had a game- high 13 points at the break on 5- for- 9 shoot­ing, in­clud­ing all three 3- point at­tempts and a truly re­mark­able spin­ning re­verse layup he some­how man­aged to get up over Fall’s out­stretched arms.

That tied the game at 21. UConn would tie the game once more.

Vi­tal’s one- handed put­back dunk of a Tyler Pol­ley miss just over four min­utes into the lat­ter half put a charge in the crowd of 10,541. Fall was then whis­tled for his third foul, and Vi­tal canned a wide- open 3- pointer from the cor­ner to tie the game at 40.

Collin Smith coun­tered with a con­ven­tional three­p­oint play, how­ever, and UCF would never trail again. The Huskies turned the ball over on their next four pos­ses­sions, and UCF went on an 11- 2 run. Vi­tal hit a high- arch­ing jumper to get UConn back to within six ( 52- 46) with 7: 02 to play, but again the Knights an­swered. Dawkins kicked it off with a dunk, and y the time Dayon Grif­fin canned a pair of free throws with 2: 40 left, UCF led by 14.

Gil­bert scored 13 of his team- high 18 points in the first half and Vi­tal net­ted 13 of his 15 in the lat­ter.

“From an ef­fort stand­point, it was rep­re­sen­ta­tive about what a UConn team looks like, or a team looks like that cares,” said Hur­ley. “Now, it’s just about mov­ing this thing for­ward, try­ing to get bet­ter.”

And there’s a long way to go in that depart­ment.

“We’re not close to where ( UCF is) right now,” Hur­ley added. “Those guys are men, they’re well- schooled, and they have great habits. They’re led by guys that are locked in. There’s ob­vi­ously a gap be­tween us and the bet­ter teams that we play. We’ve got to keep clos­ing that gap in our ef­forts this year.”

Jes­sica Hill / As­so­ci­ated Press

UCF’s Collin Smith ( 35) fouls UConn’s Sid­ney Wil­son dur­ing the first half on Satur­day.

Jes­sica Hill / As­so­ci­ated Press

UConn’s Al­terique Gil­bert looks to pass around . UCF’s Collin Smith dur­ing the first half on Satur­day.

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