HARTFORD—The wait is finally over. All the talk, all the predictions, all the speculation is done—now UConn and its vaunted class of five freshmen are playing basketball.
The Huskies opened their season with an 83-68 win over the University of New Haven on Sunday afternoon at the XL Center in front of 5,826. In the first of two exhibition games on the UConn schedule, the returning staples got their chance to shake off the offseason rust while newcomers Terry Larrier, Vance Jackson, Juwan Durham, Alterique Gilbert, Mamadou Diarra and Christian Vital got their first opportunity to showcase the potential Huskies’ fans have been pining to see.
Larrier and Jackson made the biggest impact among the Huskies’ newcomers. Larrier’s length and athleticism on the perimeter should help offset the loss of Daniel Hamilton. Larrier (14 points; 7 rebounds; 1 assist; 1 block) showed the ability to do a little of everything, from leading the break after grabbing a defensive rebound, to finishing through contact in the paint and wreaking havoc in the passing lanes on the defensive end.
Jackson flashed a pretty stroke from beyond the arc, knocking down four-of-six attempts from long distance. When the Huskies did get out in transition, Jackson (15 points; 4 rebounds) drifted to open areas on the three-point line, helping UConn to a 16-7 advantage in fast-break points.
The Chargers kept things close in the first half, knocking down 7-of-19 three-point attempts. Much to head coach Kevin Ollie’s displeasure, New Haven’s Danny Upchurch scored a game-high 33 points as UConn led by just one at halftime, 36-35. However, it was Larrier and Jackson who fueled a 13-0 run in the second half that opened things up. Jackson scored 12 of his 15 points after the break with Larrier adding eight.
While struggling to find his shot, Gilbert dished out four of his game-high five assists in the second half, playing well in tandem with sophomore Jalen Adams. The two speedy guards were a blur in transition and too tough to cover in one-on-one matchups in the half court. Adams, now a starter, scored 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting, adding a pair of assists and steals.
Senior Kentan Facey was solid inside, helping the Huskies to a 39-26 advantage on the glass. Facey grabbed three boards and scored 13 points in 17 minutes of action. Fellow senior Amida Brimah saw the court for just 14 minutes on Sunday but Ollie said after the game New Haven’s lack of size and its preference to pull Brimah out to the three-point line was the reason for his limited action.
There were questions about Durham’s health coming into the year following two ACL tears, but the freshman forward was out there, hauling in three boards and flashing a nice baseline jumper in his nine minutes of action. Fellow freshman big Mamadou Diarra played for 10 minutes and Vital added five points and two assists in 14 minutes.
UConn closes out the exhibition portion of its schedule next Saturday against Southern Connecticut State University.