Takeaways: Was OT loss to Cincy a turning point?
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.