UConn is now 6-5 after dropping its second straight opener in the American Athletic Conference after Wednesday's 57-53 loss to Temple at the XL Center. The Huskies were an abysmal 8 of 19 from the foul line, including two misses and a violation by Daniel Hamilton at the end of overtime in a two-point game.
Tim Fontenault and Elan-Paolo DeCarlo were courtside Wednesday afternoon and Matt Gionfriddo was in the building to take it all in. Here is their take on the game and what lies ahead.
Tim Fontenault: Let's get the obvious out of the way. UConn is not a great team at the foul line. That's the overlaying theme of Wednesday's game. Daniel Hamilton stepped up with a chance to win the game and he didn't come through, but that's no surprise seeing as he was 9 of 16 from the line entering the game. Get in the gym, take 200 foul shots after practice. Fix the issue.
I'm going to look on the bright side here. UConn, without its captain and leading scorer (who also happens to be the best player in the conference), fought its way back into that game through sheer force of will. Temple is a good basketball team, especially on the defensive end. That 6-0 run over the last 1:51 in regulation was amazing.
Matt Gionfriddo: Obviously, this was a tough one to swallow, and without Boatright, it would have been a really good win. Like you said, Tim, Temple is a good basketball team that has good players in Will Cummings and Quenton DeCosey and a good coach in Fran Dunphy. They played spectacular defense throughout the whole 45 minutes and did not allow for many open shots or easy drives. With that being said, there were many times throughout the game where we could have taken the lead or tied it, but failed to do so, which is starting to become an issue for this still young team.
At the end of the day, we just didn't have enough guys step up with the absence of Boatright. Facey continued to do his thing, scoring nine points and hauling in 11 rebounds, but other than that, there wasn't much. Hamilton had a double-double, but I really didn't think he played that well and often looked disengaged on offense. To be honest, I was pretty disappointed with Rodney Purvis. When Boat went down, it was kind of like "alright, Rodney here you go,"and he did not deliver for us. It's another close loss, which sucks, but it is also another game in which we showed that we can be competitive because of our defense.
Elan-Paolo Decarlo: It's beyond foul shooting. This is a UConn team that flat out struggles to score the basketball against any real competition. The games the Huskies have excelled in have been against Coppin State, Columbia, and Central Connecticut State. Not exactly stiff competition. The problem is a staggering lack of consistency. Rodney Purvis to me is the main culprit. In games against Columbia and Central, Purvis scored 21 points and 14 points, shooting 7 of 8 and 4 of 7. He even hit a combined 6/10 from three point range. Well, that Purvis did not show up against Temple.
We need to talk about Daniel Hamilton. The foul shooting was horrible, but this loss is not entirely at his feet. He struggled shooting all afternoon, like he has most of the season. But the key in Hamilton's game is how he can affect the game in other ways. For most of the contest, he was UConn's best passer. At times, he looks unstoppable, especially when coming coast to coast following a rebound. He's probably the second best rebounder on the team behind Facey. Simply put, without Hamilton's efforts, UConn loses in embarrassing fashion in regulation. Don't bash the freshman for his late game mistakes, he'll get better from this.
Gionfriddo: Right, I think as the season goes on, he will mature and develop and continue to get better, I just didn't think he played that well. It's kind of how I feel about Purvis. Boatright got hurt and we needed guys to step up. Hamilton very much could have been the guy, but he wasn't being that aggressive and when he tried putting the ball on the floor, he was having a tough time getting by the Temple defenders, so give credit to them.
I think that over time, he will realize that he can be the go-to guy on this team, especially in late game situations. But, no we did not lose solely because of Daniel Hamilton, and the fact that he's a freshman and doing this well so far this season is a blessing for Husky fans.
Fontenault: I’ll be that guy and look ahead to next year: As much as I liked Terrance Samuel filling in for at the point Wednesday, Jalen Adams can’t get here soon enough.
Anyway, the offense absolutely has to get better. There were times when Hamilton would push the ball up the floor and dictate the pace, particularly on the play where he pulled up at (ironically) the foul line and buried the jumper. He just needs to be more consistent.
Not to make excuses about the offense, but we all need to be prepared for a lot of low scoring games against the top teams in the conference this year. UConn, Temple, Memphis, Cincinnati and SMU will be the top five teams in the conference this year – in what order, I don’t know. All five are ranked in the top 40 in Kenpom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings: Temple (18), SMU (25), UConn (28), Cincinnati (31) and Memphis (36). There are going to be a lot of 55-54 games at the top of the standings this year. Buckle up.
It’s going to be a matter of which team has the mental fortitude to break through against those teams. Ideally, UConn can be as effective on both sides of the floor as they were for the last 1:51 of the second half Wednesday.
Gionfriddo: As long as it's AAC basketball, then I am all in. While there are good defenses in this league, there are teams that are certainly offensively struggled. As long as we find a consistent second or even third scorer, we are going to be more than okay in this conference.
I'll be the first to say it: I loved everything that I saw from Omar Calhoun yesterday. In 18 minutes, he scored seven points on 3 of 5 shooting, grabbed three boards, and dished out two assists. And he made a three!!! When things were going south quick without Boatright, Calhoun stepped up and showed flashes from his freshman year, being aggressive on offense and very competitive on defense. If it wasn't for the cut on his eye, he probably would have played in overtime and would have made a significant difference. ALL ABOARD THE OMAR TRAIN!
Fontenault: THANK YOU!
I love Omar Calhoun, always have. He was treated so unfairly by this fan base for a long time because of last season. He had part of both his hips shaved off in the summer. I’m not an expert, but I have to think that would mess with somebody’s ability to play high-level basketball for a while. I give him credit for sticking with it.
And it’s paying off now. He’s playing very well and giving everything he’s got out there. It is a lot of fun to watch. I agree that he would have been a difference maker down the stretch yesterday, and I think he’s definitely going to be a factor the rest of the way.
UConn will be fine, even with the competitive nature at the top of the conference. Just don’t screw up against teams like USF. I only lasted four minutes in the second half of the SMU-USF game Wednesday. If you lose to USF, go straight to the NIT, maybe the CBI.
Gionfriddo: <3 Omar
Agreed, USF is really really bad and there is no reason to lose to them. We are going to get wins in the conference, we just need to take care of business against Florida and Stanford. With Florida losing in super rough fashion against Florida State, this game against them almost becomes a must win for our resume. It won't be the quality win we hoped for when the season started, but it would still be a road victory in a hostile environment. The Gators play really good defense, allowing only 56.3 PPG, and ranking 7th in Kenpom's adjusted defensive efficiency. It could be yet another close, low-scoring affair. Or, we can just hit some threes and win big. That would be fun too.
Fontenault: Going in and annihilating Florida would be a major flex of the muscles, but just having a "W" next to that game on the schedule is what matters long term.
I feel weird using the phrase "quality losses" with Florida after that unfortunate end to the Florida State game, but you can do worse than having your worst loss on the resume be one of Florida State, Miami, Georgetown, Kansas or North Carolina. This is still a team that reached the Final Four last year. It’s going to be a very good game. I think UConn comes out of it with the win and it will look better after Florida finishes second in the SEC, albeit a weak (which is saying something) SEC outside of the Unbeatables.
Gionfriddo: Yeah, I mean this won't be a walk in the park by any means and I expect a very close game from start to finish, with neither team being able to pull away so I guess we better gear up for another intense game that will toy with our emotions. I also think UConn pulls out the victory, but I'll pick them in every game they will ever play, so that's not really saying much.