Kevin Ollie and the UConn Huskies played a de-facto road game to start the PK80 Tournament, taking on a talented Oregon team at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon. In a hard-fought battle, the Huskies prevailed, 71-63.
UConn showed a lot of toughness, advancing to the winner’s bracket where the Huskies will face No. 4 Michigan State at midnight tonight.
Aman: Oregon played in the Final Four last year, and even though its roster turned over quite a bit, this is still a very good win for the Huskies. UConn has a rebuilt roster of its own, and it just passed its first big test with flying colors. In a back-and-forth contest in a road environment, UConn’s usual suspects led the way but a lot of different guys contributed throughout. It’s clear this team can do some damage and may even surpass some of the more optimistic Husky fans’ preseason expectations.
It’s also really encouraging that UConn got off to a good start and then punched back after Oregon took a solid lead late in the second half.
Madigan: I don't think Oregon is a particularly great team, but it was good to see UConn compete for 40 minutes and show resilience in the second half. No matter how good Oregon ends up being, this is an important win. It keeps the positive momentum going and it helps out the schedule too since any result against Michigan State is better than playing DePaul.
So I ‘Rique (‘Rique), Yeahhh
(Yes, this is a reference to a popular song from 1994, get off my lawn)
Aman: Alterique Gilbert showed why there’s so much to be excited about with his return to the lineup. He was driving and scoring around the rim and looked good doing it. He also was shooting well, going 6-of-12 overall and 2-of-3 from behind the arc. Gilbert also added three steals thanks to his tenacious defense.
Madigan: Gilbert really showed his full potential last night. While he's still struggling at the free throw line, he shot better from the field and was blowing by Oregon defenders for easy buckets. He was also very active on defense, helping the Huskies keep a pretty talented player in Payton Pritchard relatively contained, especially in the second half.
The Small Lineup
Aman: After Josh Carlton and David Onuorah fouled out, Kevin Ollie went with an interesting lineup: Terry Larrier at the five alongside four guards. And it worked! Larrier was joined on the court by Gilbert, Jalen Adams, Christian Vital, and Antwoine Anderson as the Huskies closed out the win.
Madigan: Ollie gets a lot of (deserved) flak for his lineup decisions most nights, but he was on the mark against Oregon. He simply went with his best guys with Larrier and the four guards. Against Oregon's press, this helped immensely as everyone could handle the ball. It also helped in the half-court offense, allowing UConn to spread out and have Adams and Gilbert attack their defenders one-on-one.
I really think this lineup is one of the best UConn has to offer, and while it's tricky to go so small sometimes, the Huskies' guards are talented enough to make it work. Not to mention, Larrier roaming in the paint against larger and slower defenders is a major advantage. On defense, Vital, Anderson, and Larrier rebound well enough to not let UConn get overwhelmed on the boards.
Aman: Antwoine Anderson has hit double-digit scoring in all four games this season, just like everyone predicted. He’s unexpectedly been a key player for the Huskies and I like him. That is all.
The Power Trio
Aman: Larrier led the way with 18 points while Adams and Gilbert had 16 each. All three of these guys doing well is a large part of the formula for beating good teams or upsetting great ones. To see them doing well together in a game of this magnitude gave us a glimpse of this season’s potential, and I like what I saw.
Madigan: I know a lot of fuss was made about UConn's lack of assists, but when Gilbert and Adams are getting past their defenders so easily and getting open looks in the paint, it makes way more sense to clear out, get ball to the best players - Adams, Gilbert, and Larrier - and let them operate. This may not always be the case, but last night, freeing up those guys to let them beat their defender off the dribble was the winning strategy.
The Bar is Raised
Aman: The only downside of all this excitement is that now expectations are higher. We know what this team is capable of, and that they can do pretty well when the coaches and players apply themselves properly.
Looking at the near future, high off the hype of this win, we want to give Michigan State a good fight and get at least another win in this tournament. Most will expect to beat Syracuse at MSG and take a pretty good record into Arizona, where UConn may have a chance—the highly-ranked Wildcats just lost two in a row to NC State and SMU so they seem pretty vulnerable.
Anything is possible after an encouraging win. We needed one of those.
[Sniffs more hype dust]
Maybe this is a 2 or 3-loss team going into Game No. 17 against Villanova? Perhaps they slip into the top-25? Or get a win at Moody Colise—okay let’s not get ahead of ourselves.