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Final Score: UConn Men’s Basketball Upsets Houston in AAC Tournament, 74-65

The Huskies played through a shaky start to grab a solid win with a great team performance.

Ian Bethune

Jalen Adams led the UConn Huskies with 23 points, 18 in the second half, as they defeated the 3-seed Houston Cougars, 74-65, at the XL Center in the AAC Tournament Quarterfinals.

Few gave the Huskies much of a chance to knock off a Houston team which had swept them in the regular season. Beyond the program’s postseason reputation, there was little reason for optimism after UConn barely made it past USF in the opening round. But in their most complete performance of the season, the Huskies stepped up in a game which they led most of the way. Now they live to see another day.

UConn (16-16) started off cold, falling behind 20-9 in the first 10 minutes. The Huskies responded with a 26-6 run keyed by freshmen Christian Vital and Vance Jackson. Vital played great defense, made some hustle plays, and led the team with 10 points at the break. Jackson displayed his outside prowess but also had a few dribble-drives in key moments, finishing one with a powerful dunk.

“The freshmen stepped up huge for us,” Adams said. “Starting with Vance Jackson. He came in the game and when he got that dunk helped us get up to the first half lead... (Vital) stepped up with some huge shots...his energy led us on the defensive end.”

The usual suspects led the way, though, especially in the second half as Rodney Purvis scored 18 on the heels of his 30-point performance Thursday night. Adams was the star of the evening, deftly finding holes in the defense and either draining his shot or finding the open man. The sophomore added five assists, four rebounds, and two steals while going 9-of-10 from the free throw line.

“When Jalen gets in that mode, when he’s got that pull-up game going, we was just trying to flatten the defense out and let him make plays,” Kevin Ollie said.

Ian Bethune

Houston kept fighting, closing the gap a few times, but UConn confidently handled each run with a response of its own. The crowd roared to its feet as the Huskies were making big plays on both sides of the court when they needed them. In addition to the double-digit performances from four players, the ability to respond under duress defined this win.

Big men Amida Brimah and Kentan Facey did not have their best games, combining for just seven points and eight rebounds, but UConn still managed to win the rebounding battle, 34-28.

The Huskies shot 55 percent from the field and hit 18-of-22 free throws (82%), indicative of great shot selection and ball movement offensively.

“(It’s) giving up good shots for great shots,” Rodney Purvis said.

Kevin Ollie’s squad moves on to face 2-seed Cincinnati. The Bearcats are coming off a comfortable and impressive victory over Tulane, 80-61, in the opener of the day’s second session. They’ve been looking good, but the Huskies are confident and have owned Cincinnati in the AAC Tournament, a perfect 3-0.

This year, UConn has struggled mightily against Cincinnati. But Saturday at 5 p.m. when the semifinal matchup tips off, every Husky fan in the building will believe they can win. That’s what this time of year is all about.

“We wanted to make it to the weekend,” Ollie said. “We’re here at the weekend. Now we got two more games to win and we’re not tired.”

Kevin Ollie, Jalen Adams, Rodney Purvis Postgame:

Christian Vital Postgame: