Take­aways: Was OT loss to Cincy a turn­ing point?

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - SPORTS - By David Borges

Ad­mit it, UConn fans: If not for that Jan. 2 loss at South Florida, you’d feel pretty darn good about the Huskies right now.

As it is, you still should feel pretty good, even af­ter Satur­day night’s loss at Cincinnati. Sure, the Huskies are 10-7 over­all and 1-3 in the Amer­i­can. Sure, they still haven’t won a tough road game in more than two years.

But the ef­fort and en­ergy dis­played at Fifth Third Arena in Satur­day’s over­time loss was enough to make even the most jaun­diced fan re­al­ize that this team has some po­ten­tial to do some things this sea­son. Could we look at Satur­day night as a turn­ing point?

“I be­lieve maybe now they have the con­fi­dence they can go on the road and beat a good team, have re­spect, walk around feel­ing good about them­selves like they po­ten­tially have a team that, if we show up this way the rest of the year, we can have a sea­son we can be proud of,” coach Dan Hur­ley said.

Here are five take­aways from Satur­day night:

⏩ VI­TAL SIGNS: We got the full Chris­tian Vi­tal on

Satur­day. Most of it was good. He played his heart out, at one point div­ing on the floor for a loose ball and fly­ing into the first-row seats like Derek Jeter. The 6-foot-1 guard grabbed 10 re­bounds, more than any­one else on the floor. And he had a bushel full of big shots: a tran­si­tion layup to get the Huskies to within a point with 8:05 left in reg­u­la­tion; a 3-pointer to get to within two with 5:24 re­main­ing, then an­other trey with 4:39 left that gave the Huskies their first lead since late in the first half.

He also com­mit­ted a ques­tion­able fla­grant-one tech­ni­cal foul on Jar­ron Cum­ber­land. And, of course, he lost con­trol of the ball, then com­mit­ted an of­fen­sive foul in the fi­nal sec­onds, de­priv­ing the Huskies a chance at a gamewin­ning shot.

Hur­ley said Vi­tal was “de­spon­dent” about the fi­nal play, and Vi­tal promised that if he was in that po­si­tion again, “it’s not gonna hap­pen like that again.”

But it’s hard to be too tough on Vi­tal af­ter he sac­ri­ficed his body and played his heart out on Satur­day night — as he al­most al­ways does.

⏩ AL­TERIQUE WAS TERRIFIQUE: Satur­day night may have been a com­ing-out party for Al­terique Gil­bert. Af­ter Jalen Adams fouled out with 21⁄2 min­utes left in reg­u­la­tion, Gil­bert took con­trol, hit­ting a 3pointer to get the Huskies within one with 1:34 left, then hit­ting a floater at the buzzer to send the game into over­time.

He scored UConn’s fi­nal seven points in OT, as well, though he never got a chance at an­other last-sec­ond shot thanks to Vi­tal’s turnover. But Gil­bert proved he can be “The Man” for the Huskies, with or with­out Adams in the game. ⏩ TAKE-CHARGE KIND OF GUY: Al­though UConn man­aged to send the game to OT af­ter he fouled out, Adams still had a strong game, fin­ish­ing with 16 points, six as­sists, five boards (and four turnovers).

His most in­trigu­ing play came with 4:51 left in reg­u­la­tion, when he took a charge on a Bearcat ball­han­dler, even though he had four fouls at the time. It was risky, but it proved suc­cess­ful.

“That was the play of the night for me,” Adams said. “I could score zero points, as long as I take that charge.”

⏩ IN THE ZONE?: Hur­ley doesn’t love play­ing zone de­fense, but he went zone mid­way through the sec­ond half and stayed with it nearly the rest of the way on Satur­day. It proved ef­fec­tive — Cincinnati scored just four field goals the rest of the way, though cu­ri­ously still got to the foul line 25 more times.

Hur­ley is a man-to-man guy, but he’ll go zone again if and when the sit­u­a­tion calls for it.

“We’re a small team, so zone is a lit­tle bit tricky,” he said. “But any­time we see there’s two or three non-3point shoot­ers, it’s some­thing we can def­i­nitely go to. Just to change things up, give our guys a rest. It also saves their legs for of­fense. I think against cer­tain op­po­nents it’s good, and this was one we iden­ti­fied that a lit­tle three-quar­ter court de­fense, back to the zone might be a good look.”

⏩ FOUL MOOD: Yes, Cincinnati went to the foul line 38 times to UConn’s 16. Yes, UConn was whis­tled for 28 fouls, Cincinnati 17. Yes, Vi­tal’s fla­grant-one was ques­tion­able, but by the book, prob­a­bly the right call.

No, of­fi­cials don’t have a vendetta against UConn. If the league re­ally wanted to fa­vor one team, don’t you think UConn would be the top choice? Yes, UConn fouls a lot. And yes, the home team al­most al­ways gets a fa­vor­able whis­tle. Look no fur­ther than two nights ear­lier, when UConn shot 31 foul shots and SMU 16 at Gam­pel. But of course, all those calls were fair, right?

UConn’s Chris­tian Vi­tal, left, drives against Cincinnati’s Trevor Moore on Satur­day.

UConn’s Al­terique Gil­bert takes a foul shot dur­ing over­time on Satur­day.

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