Loss a flash­back to last sea­son

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Sports - JEFF JA­COBS

NEW YORK — No December loss in his first sea­son will put an in­deli­ble stamp on Dan Hur­ley’s UConn ca­reer any more than one Novem­ber vic­tory over Syra­cuse will.

There will be highs and lows and af­ter­noons when noth­ing will drop for Jalen Adams. There will be highs and lows and af­ter­noons when Eric Cobb, ar­guably UConn’s best player in the Huskies’ first two games at Madi­son Square Gar­den, never gets off the bench.

Still, there is one thing that should be said about this hum­bling 81-58 loss to Vil­lanova be­fore a packed New York house.

One thing that must be said about the sec­ond half, and es­pe­cially about the Wild­cats’ 19-0 run over a span of 6 min­utes, 41 sec­onds, that saw a 36-35 UConn lead with 17:07 re­main­ing turn into a hol­i­day laugher for the na­tional cham­pi­ons.

And, yes, it’s prob­a­bly the worst thing one could say to UConn fans.

This loss re­minded you of last sea­son.

If an op­po­nent had outscored the Huskies, 51-28, in the sec­ond half last year, the howls and in­sults would have grown loud.

If the Huskies be­gan los­ing their dis­ci­pline, turn­ing the ball over, hoist­ing shots, go­ing 0-for-6 and turn­ing the ball over six times in that 6:41 span, yes, the howls and in­sults would have grown mighty loud. The stretch was com­pounded by Vil­lanova go­ing 5-for-7 and get­ting to the foul line five times.

Let’s be hon­est. Let’s not lie. Those howls and in­sults would have been di­rected at Kevin Ol­lie.

“Credit Vil­lanova, one of the best pro­grams in the coun­try,” Hur­ley said. “And, ob­vi­ously, we showed how far away we are from be­ing there to­day with our per­for­mance in front of a great crowd … a re­ally, bru­tal last 17 min­utes for us.”

Here’s a ques­tion to pon­der over the Christ­mas hol­i­days.

The Huskies are 9-4, 1-3 in the four real chal­lenges. If Ol­lie were the coach to­day, what would UConn’s record be?

Hmm, prob­a­bly 9-4? That is meant as no sweep­ing in­dict­ment.

When all the en­ergy Hur­ley has ex­pended on the side­lines, all the yelling at refs, all the pump-it-up mo­ments for his play­ers, slides peace­fully into a “Merry Christ­mas,” here’s the truth: There are so many games, so much work to be done be­fore we can be­gin to fully as­sess how happy Hur­ley’s new year will be in March. Rolling over the easy teams was fun, but there must be many im­por­tant wins be­fore we pro­claim hosan­nas and lay great wine and cheeses at his forever­mov­ing feet.

That was true the night every­body went gaga with the win over Syra­cuse. And still true to­day.

Asked if there was a com­mon theme to UConn’s bad stretches — Ap­proach? Ex­e­cu­tion? Fa­tigue? — Hur­ley wound up for a full-throated, 200-word re­ply.

“I don’t think it was any of those things,” Hur­ley said. “Ex­e­cu­tion, lis­ten, Vil­lanova was switch­ing ev­ery screen. When a team switches ev­ery screen, un­less you have a big that you can throw the ball into, try to go high-low, make them pay for the switch, which ob­vi­ously is not part of the way we’re cur­rently con­sti­tuted, you’ve got to be able to go by some­body. Get in the paint, land, spray the ball or fin­ish at the rim.

“But for me, I just think it’s more of a like, I don’t want to say, ‘Here we go again’ thing. It’s a mind­set. When things start go­ing badly, you’ve got to get more de­ter­mined. You’ve got to get more solid. You’ve got to trust your team­mates more. You’ve got to hunt of­fense less and try to get more stops and set bet­ter screens. That’s how you get your­self out of bad stretches. Not by mak­ing a (hes­i­ta­tion) 17-foot pullup. You’re not go­ing to score your team out of trou­ble. You’ve got to play your team out of trou­ble by be­ing solid. I think that’s some­thing that’s go­ing to take a lit­tle bit of time maybe to build and change that ‘here we go again’ mind­set where things just seem to spi­ral and un­ravel.”

There’s a lot to be said for lead­er­ship and Vil­lanova got it from se­niors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall. Booth had 18 points on — get this — six shots. Paschall bul­lied his way to 21 points. Hur­ley said the Huskies did a good job guard­ing Paschall when the de­fense was in front of their bench and the coaches could help them through, dou­bling the post. At the other end in the sec­ond half, con­tain­ment turned into a sad joke.

“Great play­ers, that’s what they do,” Hur­ley said.

Jalen Adams, UConn’s best player, didn’t do it on this day. He shot 3-for-13, 0-3 from 3, had four fouls, six turnovers and was a game-worst mi­nus-25.

“We wanted to play (Adams) as a team,” Vil­lanova coach Jay Wright said. “We did not want to play him one-on-one. We knew that could hurt us from 3, but we had to pick our poi­son. We didn’t want him to get in the lane and cre­ate fouls and shots and of­fen­sive re­bounds.”

There was a strik­ing mo­ment with five min­utes left in the game. There was Adams, shak­ing his head in dis­may, his shirt hang­ing out, look­ing dis­com­bob­u­lated. It was the herewe-go-again mo­ment.

“We need him in games like this to per­form at a high level for us to have a chance to win,” Hur­ley said. “So there’s a lot of pres­sure on him. But I thought he had a good mind­set. If any­thing, just elim­i­nate some of those 17-foot con­tested pullups. … And then the turnovers. Twelve turnovers from our three start­ing guards, that’s tough.”

Hur­ley said a win­ning pro­gram must put value on how hard play­ers get af­ter it ev­ery day. Hur­ley was care­ful to not crit­i­cize Cobb, who had 30 points in the games against Syra­cuse and Iowa. He said Yakwe has been play­ing with great ef­fort and Cobb needs to do more to un­seat him. Plus, Hur­ley said, Cobb would have strug­gled on de­fen­sive matchups against Vil­lanova. Yes, the play­ing time will evolve as surely as a pro­gram.

You see Vil­lanova sus­tain four early-sea­son losses and play this day with­out start­ing guard Collin Gille­spie be­cause of a con­cus­sion. In stepped Jahvon Quin­erly, who just a week ago, dropped jaws by com­plain­ing about his lack-ofmin­utes fate on In­sta­gram be­fore eras­ing it and ad­mit­ting his mis­take. The guy scored 10 points and had four as­sists in 16 min­utes. Tough-minded pro­grams, with lead­ers, ab­sorb stuff like bad mo­ments, off and on the court.

“We’ve got to be­come a lit­tle bit tougher-minded team when stuff starts go­ing side­ways for us,” Hur­ley said. “We’ve got to be able to dig our heels in the ground and get a stop or step into a big shot and make it. Do some­thing to stop the bleed­ing. I’m not sure what drill that is.”

Hur­ley threat­ened a month ago to go to a slower-place of­fense to cut down turnovers. Af­ter this one, know­ing his stable of guards is his best bet, he had an amend­ment:

“I’m go­ing to have to have a much shorter leash with these guys com­ing back from the hol­i­days in terms of if you’re not re­spon­si­ble with the ball, you’re go­ing to have to come out.”

What no­body at UConn wants is a “Here we go again.”

And for one day, at least, that’s what it felt like.

“But for me, I just think it’s more of a like, I don’t want to say, ‘Here we go again’ thing. It’s a mind­set. When things start go­ing badly, you’ve got to get more de­ter­mined. You’ve got to get more solid. You’ve got to trust your team­mates more. You’ve got to hunt of­fense less and try to get more stops and set bet­ter screens. That’s how you get your­self out of bad stretches. Not by mak­ing a (hes­i­ta­tion) 17-foot pullup.”

— UConn coach Dan Hur­ley

Jes­sica Hill / As­so­ci­ated Press

UConn guard Jalen Adams re­acts af­ter miss­ing a bas­ket while be­ing fouled against Ari­zona on Dec. 2 in Hart­ford.

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