UConn. Syracuse. Madison Square Garden. This is as good as it gets.
Watching UConn through the first two games of the season, it was clear that a culture shift had occurred. Dan Hurley’s unrelenting energy had transferred to his roster and for the first time in three years, the Huskies were playing like winners.
While there’s plenty to be learned from a win over Morehead State or UMKC, going head-to-head with a heated — and ranked — rival in the world’s most famous arena is an experience that can really only be compared to March Madness.
Still, it seemed that UConn had a real chance to play spoiler in this one, and it didn’t take long for them to show that potential to the world.
Before people had a chance to settle into their seats, Jalen Adams went soaring through the air for a opening possession alley-oop, giving the Huskies a 2-0 lead. That was followed by a Josh Carlton block on the other end of the court and suddenly, the heavily favored Orange didn’t look quite as unbeatable.
Of course, there was the looming puzzle of the famed 2-3 zone. How would UConn amount any offense without a dominate big man down low?
It seems the initial plan was to set high ball screens and have their guards penetrate the lane. We saw Adams split a few double teams and either dish it out to the perimeter or simply take it to the hoop himself. The result was 3-4 inside with 8 points and an assist.
Rather, the real difference was the outstanding play from Eric Cobb. It seems as if the Huskies were waiting for a big man to step up and Cobb certainly delivered, shooting 80% from the field with a three-pointer thrown in the mix. He led the team at the half with nine points off the bench.
In fact, the bench was responsible for nearly half of the Huskies’ points with every player on who played scoring at least once, save Isaiah Whaley, who has yet to attempt a field goal.
But it wasn’t all good. The turnovers were plentiful with the Huskies responsible for 12 in the first half. In some respect, that’s a byproduct of Hurley’s fast pace of play and Syracuse’s lengthy zone, but it’s still something that needs to be cleaned up in the second half.
Syracuse shot a miserable 12.5% from beyond the arch, making just 1-of-9 three-pointers compared to UConn’s 4-for-8. The Huskies outshot the Orange 48.1% to 31.0 % from the field, as well.
That said, percentages tend to right themselves, and although poor shooting has been a recurring issue for this Syracuse team, you can’t count on it to persist in this second half.
UConn needs to take better care of the ball, continue to feed hot handed shooters, and maintain the defensive intensity. Onto the second half. This is fun.