Starters: Jalen Adams, Christian Vital, Terry Larrier, Isaiah Whaley, Josh Carlton
Quick kerfuffle during pre-game warm-ups
Best not to nudge CV in the back during his pregame warmup routine pic.twitter.com/9hxltsCtnI— tcf15 (@tcf_15) January 11, 2018
20:00 - Tacko Fall wins the tip and the game starts with a Josh Carlton foul
14:37 - UConn jumped out to a 4-0 lead but now it’s tied 6-6. Fall scored an easy bucket and two bad UConn turnovers has the Huskies looking just about the same as usual—a lot of individual play. Adams and Carlton each have a basket and Vital hit 2-3 free throws. Whaley went down with an ankle injury and has been out since, may return.
10:26 - Tied 10-10. UConn has four turnovers in the first six minutes and look sloppy even when scoring baskets. Luckily UCF isn’t doing too hot either, currently 0-5 from three and four turnovers of their own.
5:28 - UConn leads, 18-15. Whaley got taped up and re-entered the game. Takeaways: the Huskies aren’t great and neither is UCF without BJ Taylor.
0:00 - UConn leads, 30-21. Christian Vital drew a flagrant-1 foul on a breakaway and the Huskies closed out the half with a 9-2 run.
Despite not playing great, UConn deserves some credit for maintaining a lead throughout the first half. This has not been enjoyable basketball by any stretch of the imagination, but baby steps or something.
20:00 - Second half begins with a UCF turnover and five quick points from Christian Vital!
16:00 - UConn ahead, 35-26. Huskies doing enough to stay ahead, though at the moment they are extremely sloppy on offense and haven’t scored any points in almost three minutes. Vital leads all scorers with 13.
12:54 - 10-0 UCF run gets them back in it, and the Husky lead is down to four, 40-36.
7:48 - UConn ahead, 48-42. Knights got it within one, but UConn pushed the lead back up. UCF has 14 turnovers and the Huskies have 11. U-g-l-y
3:44 - UConn up 54-55, Huskies doing a good job of answering back every time UCF closes in. Vital leads all scorers with 16, Larrier (13), and Adams (11) are both in double digits. Adams became the 50th Husky in program history with over 1,000 career points.
1:07 - Huskies on top, 58-49. Let’s see if they can close this one out comfortably.
0:00 - Victory! First back-to-back wins for UConn since beating Columbia (Nov. 29) and Monmouth (Dec. 2) and the Huskies advance to 9-7. Even if UCF was without its best scorer, this is a good win for UConn. The Huskies did some things well that they hadn’t been doing in the past, and responded well on multiple occasions when UCF cut down the lead.
FINAL: #UConn 62, #UCF 53— TheUConnBlog (@TheUConnBlog) January 11, 2018
Vital - 18 pts, 7 reb
Adams - 13 pts, 5 reb, 5 ast
Larrier - 13 pts
Whaley - 4 pts, 6 reb, 5 blocks
Nice job defensively against Tacko Fall and good job by the Huskies responding as UCF close in a few times pic.twitter.com/f8iQ3MOXls
UConn finally got the win they were looking for against East Carolina on Saturday, despite the unexpected difficulty of the effort, and now they’ll be faced with a real challenge as they face Central Florida at Gampel Pavilion tonight.
The Knights have one of the best defenses in the country, ranking fourth in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency rating. A combination of ability and disciplined coaching from Johnny Dawkins allows them to play a conservative style that nonetheless is among the most effective in the league, if not the entire NCAA. While their takeaway rate is only average, they punish inside shooters (holding opponents to a dreadful .401 shooting mark from inside the arc) and hardly ever foul.
It all starts with 7-foot-6-inch Tacko Fall on the inside, who is every bit as good a defender as his reputation suggests. The only things he has in common with UConn Legend Hasheem Thabeet are height and shot-blocking; he’s a well-rounded player capable of making an impact everywhere he goes on the floor—the only drawbacks are a limited motor (only 21.4 minutes per game) and an occasional propensity to fall into foul trouble.
It’s often no matter, as there are several players on the Central Florida roster capable of picking up the slack. The Knights’ top seven minute-getters are all good defenders, including multiple bench players, like beefy forward Chad Brown, who, in addition to his solid scoring ability, is a much better shot blocker than he initially appears to be.
The UCF offense is a much different story, though. The loss of top offensive player B.J. Taylor to a foot injury (he’ll be back soon, but is unlikely to play tonight) has left the Knights without much scoring, and the rest of the offense has struggled in his absence. As a team, they’ve shot .504/.309/.635 for the season, and the latter two of those numbers are among the worst in the country, although the three-point shooting has improved lately. Fall is the only healthy player in the starting lineup who scores at an efficient rate, although his limitations shorthand him to only a handful of shots per game.
The UConn gameplan should take advantage of Central Florida’s offensive shorthandedness by adjusting their rotations to combat a team whose skills are at extreme poles. Strong defensive guards like Christian Vital and Antoine Anderson could have a big impact on the game by preventing the inside pass to Fall and by forcing the Knights to rely on their streaky outside shooting.
The strategy for Fall will be much more difficult, as UConn’s height comes nowhere near his. Of the three true big men on the team, David Onuorah has yet to show defensive ability, and Eric Cobb’s indefinite suspension may still be in effect, leaving Josh Carlton as the guy who may be responsible for pushing Fall off his spot. While Carlton has shown a lot of potential on the defensive end, it’s not an easy assignment.
Offensively, the Huskies will have to be more productive from the outside. The only two reliable shots all season have been Terry Larrier’s short-midrange jumper and Jalen Adams getting to the rim, and the Knights specialize in shutting down both of those options. Perimeter guards will have to be more selective with their shots (as to not waste possessions in what will be a low-scoring contest) and hit the threes they do take at a consistent rate. One definite advantage UConn has over Central Florida is athleticism, and using their younger, springier guys to counteract the Knights’ height and discipline could create some mismatches in the Huskies’ favor.
Regardless, a team with this many offensive struggles rarely wants to play a team so stout on defense, so UConn will have their work cut out for them tonight, but if they show some spark on offense, that could be the catalyst for a season-saving turnaround.
PREDICTION: Central Florida 58, UConn 48