The UConn Huskies return to action tonight in Los Angeles, California taking on Loyola-Marymount at 10 p.m. Coming off two disappointing losses at Gampel Pavilion to Wagner and Northeastern the Huskies are in desperate need of a win before heading to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational.
The problems are a many for UConn at the moment—none bigger than finding a way to counter the blueprint Wagner and Northeastern created for beating the Huskies. UConn was a heavy favorite in both of its first two matchups and yet were disposed of in relatively easy fashion. Neither Wagner nor Northeastern played the games of their respective lives, both shooting under 40 percent from the field and from three and still the Huskies have held a collective lead for only 5:42.
So what did the Seahawks and Huskies to do neutralize the more skilled and deeper UConn squad? It started on the defensive end with both teams featuring zone looks. Packing the paint limited the slashing abilities of guards Jalen Adams, Rodney Purvis and Alterique Gilbert. Lacking a consistent low-post scorer or three-point shooter (27.5 percent as a team) playing a heavy-dose of zone is a great way to neutralize what Adams and Gilbert, particularly, do best. The Huskies have moved the ball well around the perimeter against the zone look but have struggled to collapse the defense by hitting Terry Larrier in the high post or getting weak-side lob plays to a big. Opponents will continue to be content letting UConn fire away outside jumpers if that means the guards aren’t driving to the rim, kicking out for easy looks or at the very least getting to the free-throw line. Vance Jackson (2-of-6 from three) is probably the one player the Huskies will look to punish teams for decided to go zone but the freshman has to start connecting consistently from downtown before the defense will extend his way.
Wagner and Northeastern also clearly recognized a UConn weakness on the glass—the Huskies have been out rebounded by an average of 6.5 a game. The Huskies have been manhandled on the offensive boards, allowing second-chance opportunities while limiting UConn’s ability to get out in transition. Kentan Facey, Amida Brimah and Steven Enoch have combined for just 21 rebounds with Larrier grabbing 11. The Huskies are obviously missing the rebounding skills of Daniel Hamilton at this point and need their bigs to step up and control the backboard, igniting a fast break and finishing defensive possessions. Brimah’s shot-blocking talents are undeniable but the 7-footer needs to be more assertive when corralling boards. Facey hasn’t contributed much and Enoch’s minutes have been limited, but attacking the glass might be his ticket to more playing time.
Top-opposing scoring guards have also given UConn fits dating back to the exhibition games. Adams and Purvis are the only veteran perimeter defenders and teams with experienced, upperclassmen in the backcourt have taken advantage of Gilbert, Christian Vitale and Jackson. Wagner and Northeastern stayed poised late into shot clocks, routinely knocking down daggers that zapped any building UConn momentum. Slowing the pace down again limits the Huskies ability to get running in the open court, the biggest strength they have going for them at the moment.
One time is a mistake, two times is on purpose and if Loyola follows a similar blueprint against the Huskies tonight—it is a habit. The Lions have three returning-starters and a pair of graduate transfers on the their roster. This is the marquee matchup on Loyola’s schedule and is billed as a “Crimson Out” on the team’s media guide. How the Huskies handle more potential zone defense, attack the backboard as well as their ability to generate points on the fast break will be the keys.