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
“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.
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.
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.”
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.