PROUD HUSKIES

Hartford Courant - - Front Page - By Dom Amore

Over­time loss to Cincinnati nearly feels like win for UConn men.

CINCINNATI — On the other side of the build­ing, the UConn men were tak­ing pride in this ef­fort. The Huskies may have been dis­ap­pointed to come up short against Cincinnati, but they were able to say for the first time in a while that they were tough enough to hang with the Bearcats.

Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, on his side of Fifth Third Arena, sounded more like the coach of the los­ing team, de­spite the Bearcats’ 74-72 over­time vic­tory Satur­day night.

“We won on the score­board,” Cronin said, “and give UConn credit, they made some big shots to get back in the game. But lack of dis­ci­pline de­fen­sively, get­ting out- re­bounded by eight in your own gym, you’re not the most phys­i­cal team … it’s em­bar­rass­ing.

“We want to flash our Cincinnati badge and think peo­ple are go­ing to run away. I’ve got news for you, they’re not run­ning any­where. If I was UConn right now, I’d be think­ing they’re go­ing to blow us out when we go back there.”

That may be go­ing a lit­tle far, even for Cronin, but his postgame mood spoke vol­umes about how the Huskies are trending. UConn can take from this game a new con­fi­dence. They out­re­bounded the big­ger, more phys­i­cal Cincinnati team 38 to 30; they came back from 11- and 8-point deficits late to force over­time; they per­se­vered de­spite an avalanche of fouls go­ing against them (28 to 17, a rather un­usual dis­crep­ancy); they forced OT; and they nearly pre­vailed af­ter Jalen Adams fouled out with 2:24 left in reg­u­la­tion.

All in all, it was the best game of the sea­son from Dan Hur­ley’s Huskies, given the way Cincinnati has man­han­dled UConn the past

two sea­sons.

“The play­ers can now maybe have the con­fi­dence that they can go on the road and beat a good team,” Hur­ley said, “and have re­spect, walk around feel­ing good about them­selves and feel like a team that, if we show up this way con­sis­tently through­out the rest of the year, we can have a sea­son we can be proud of. What’s that go­ing to mean in wins and losses? Who knows? … There are no moral vic­to­ries at UConn, but when you’re where this pro­gram has been and where you’re try­ing to get it to, but this sea­son for us should be ex­cru­ci­at­ing losses like this, and some good wins, if we show up like this.”

So, yes, it’s get­ting bet­ter. UConn goes next to Tulsa, where it has never won, to try for that first road vic­tory. Here are some take­aways from Cincinnati:

A new wrin­kle

UConn went to a zone de­fense for pe­ri­ods in the sec­ond half, though Hur­ley has never been a big fan of it, and it proved to be a good call. “We’re a small team, so zone is a lit­tle bit tricky,” he said, “but any time you see there are two or three non­shoot­ers, 3-point shoot­ers, it’s some­thing we can go to just to change things up, give our guys a rest and save their legs for of­fense. Against cer­tain op­po­nents, it’s good and this is one we iden­ti­fied.”

Carl­ton’s com­ing along

Hur­ley has been wait­ing all sea­son, as Kevin Ol­lie waited all last sea­son, for one of the UConn big men to step up and take over the job. Josh Carl­ton, who played well against mid­ma­jors and was not a fac­tor against high ma­jors, has fi­nally come alive in con­fer­ence play. Against SMU and Cincinnati, he had 18 points and 16 re­bounds. “The last two games now, against men, Josh was on the back­board,” Hur­ley said. “I re­ally thought he came of age, es­pe­cially with the way he com­peted, and the emo­tion he played with.” Carl­ton played 35 min­utes.

Gil­bert’s game

This may have been Al­terique Gil­bert’s most im­pres­sive per­for­mance of the sea­son. Mid­way through the sec­ond half, he was at 1-for-6 with three points and no as­sists. But he made four of his last nine, a cou­ple of 3s, and at­tacked the rim to score the game-ty­ing bas­ket as time was ex­pir­ing in reg­u­la­tion. He ended up with 18 points and three as­sists in 39 min­utes of floor time.

Vi­tal’s night

Chris­tian Vi­tal had 16 points, 10 re­bounds, and went 4-for-8 on 3s, a cou­ple of big ones to help UConn re­take the lead. Far more good than bad. His turnover in the fi­nal sec­onds of the OT was un­for­tu­nate, as was the fla­grant foul called against him, but give Vi­tal credit for ac­count­abil­ity af­ter the game. He didn’t hide. “I’ve got to make a bet­ter read,” he said, “or find a gap. I’ve just got to make a bet­ter play.”

A snow­ball’s chance

The 1-3 start in con­fer­ence play won’t be easy to over­come for UConn, but there is clearly a pos­i­tive trend with a lot of games left. Most im­por­tant was the Huskies’ dogged­ness. Af­ter the loss at South Florida, Hur­ley said this was a team that “caved in” once “the snow­ball started rolling down the hill.”

JOHN MIN­CHILLO/AP

Chris­tian Vi­tal, Al­terique Gil­bert and the Huskies were the tougher team at Cincinnati, de­spite an over­time loss. Here they re­act to Gil­bert’s bas­ket, which forced OT.

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