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Final Score: UConn Men’s Basketball Drops Conference Opener to Houston, 62-46

Down another key player, the Huskies struggles to put up points got worse.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

HARTFORD—Of all the UConn Huskies’ injuries this year, losing sophomore point guard Jalen Adams looks like the biggest blow of all.

Still suffering from the effects of a concussion sustained last Friday against Auburn, Connecticut was without its offensive leader on Wednesday afternoon when it hosted the University of Houston in the American Athletic Conference opener. Down to just seven healthy players, UConn was outmatched and outclassed by the Cougars, falling to 5-7 (0-1) with a 62-46 loss at the XL Center.

The outcome was what many predicted considering the Huskies’ injury report now included Adams. The Cougars (10-3, 1-0) started with an early 11-0 run, then closed the first half on an 18-1 run to make it 36-12 at the break.

The UConn offense struggled to gain any traction, committing more turnovers (9) than field goals made (3) in the first half. The Huskies had just one assist in that opening half and were nearly outscored by Rob Gray (10 points) on his own. It was the lowest scoring half for the Huskies since scoring nine on Dec. 10, 2002 against UMass.

With Rodney Purvis (12 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 turnovers) running the point in the absence of Adams, the Huskies were held to just 14.3 percent shooting in the first 20 minutes, and outscored 16-2 in the paint. The Cougars implemented a zone defense, routinely sending double teams that took Connecticut out of any offensive flow. It was as disjointed and bad of a half as the stats indicated.

“Playing a team without a point guard changes defenses, changes matchups,” said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson. “All the injuries [UConn] has had, I feel really bad for the team. But when they get Jalen back they’ll win a bunch of games…Jalen Adams is the one guy they couldn’t lose.”

UConn’s performance was improved after the break but the Huskies didn’t have enough in the tank to close the gap without their floor general. The Cougars shot 52.2 percent from the field, leading by as many as 26 early in the second half. Gray tallied 10 more points after the break to reach his scoring average of 20 while Danrad Knowles and Damyean Dotson both added 10.

“That was a bad defensive effort,” Kevin Ollie said. “We have to go back to the drawing board, we have to keep people in front of us and try to do a better job. But that was the first game where I really thought we didn’t have the enthusiasm on the defensive end, the effort on the defensive end and the attention to detail because there was just too many blow byes.”

Freshmen Christian Vital and Vance Jackson gave solid minutes in the losing effort. Vital notched a career and team-high 15 points to go along with five boards, four assists, and three steals. He continued to show the toughness he has displayed all season, playing all 40 minutes. Jackson’s shooting stroke from the outside returned to form as the swingman hit 3-of-6 shots from long range, scoring 12 points and dishing out five assists in 37 minutes.

As a team, the Huskies shot 48.1 percent from the field in the second half (33.3% for the game), including 46.7 percent from three (38.1% overall). With little-to-no bench the speak of, the Cougars held an 11-0 advantage in bench scoring.

After back-to-back solid outings from the big men, Kentan Facey, Amida Brimah and Steven Enoch were neutralized by the Houston defense. The trio shot just 2-of-12 from the field, combining for seven points, 14 rebounds and six turnovers.

“[Houston] was doubling every time we got the ball inside so I think that is going to be the [opposing] game plan,” said Ollie. “When they double, we want to have the other big dive after the double behind his man—we weren’t doing that. Our bigs were turning the ball over but they weren’t going to let us play in the post. I think they’d seen where we were producing some points and they took that away.”

UConn has a relatively quick turnaround, traveling to Tulsa for a game on Saturday afternoon. Ollie did sound confident that he could have Adams back in time.

“It is still evaluation—we will see how is he able to practice tomorrow,” he said. “But I think he is almost symptom clear. He is a 24-hour window that if all of his symptoms are gone he can start basketball activity.”