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UConn Men’s Basketball Struggles in 91-72 Loss to Iowa

The Huskies’ offense regressed hard on Friday night, as they struggled with mental mistakes and couldn’t consistently make baskets.

NCAA Basketball: Empire Classic-Connecticut vs Iowa Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

UConn could not find an answer for Tyler Cook and Luka Garza, as the two Iowa forwards combined for 48 points in the Hawkeyes’ 91-72 win over the Huskies in the 2K Sports Classic championship game on Friday night.

Cook, who dominated on both sides of the floor, led all players with 26 points, and Garza’s inside-out game contributed 22 more for the Hawkeyes. Jalen Adams scored 20 for the Huskies, mostly in the second half, and Eric Cobb had his second straight impressive game with 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the floor.

The first half was marred by a slow start for the Huskies, as they recorded eight turnovers in the first eight minutes, falling behind by—you guessed it—eight points. Some calls ranging from questionable to embarrassing slowed the team down, animating Dan Hurley even more than usual, but the unforced errors were just as much of a problem for UConn.

With a lead as big as 17 in the first half, the Hawkeyes were exactly where they wanted to be early on. Even with Jordan Bohannon mostly relegated to the bench in the first half with two early fouls, Iowa got all the early production it needed out of Garza, who created matchup issues for the Huskies all game. Garza had 18 at the break, leading the Hawkeyes to a 43-27 halftime lead.

In a marked contrast from Thursday’s victory over Syracuse, when three-point shooting was one of the biggest factors in the Huskies’ success, UConn struggled from deep in the first half, missing all eight of their attempts from beyond the arc. The Huskies made half of their interior shots in the first half, but the outside shooting simply broke down in a way that had yet to be seen this season.

The Huskies continued to miss from far, while Cobb emerged as the only reliable offensive threat in this game, as Iowa extended its lead through most of the second half. It took thirty minutes for the Huskies to knock down a three—an Alterique Gilbert shot from the corner—by which time Hurley had picked up a technical for arguing with the referees about a series of non-calls on plays where UConn players were knocked to the ground.

Jalen Adams got hot late in the second half, making two deep threes in a row, but as UConn had already been down by 20 points, the comeback effort never got that close. A 14-2 UConn run hardly even put a dent in the Iowa lead, though that security was at least somewhat aided by the numerous touch fouls the Huskies were still being whistled for.

When both teams are playing about equally aggressive on offense and about equally physical on defense, but one team attempts 37 free throws and the other attempts only 15, the officiating is getting in the way of a fair contest. Free throws are meant to reward aggressiveness and punish unnecessary contact; when both teams play roughly the same style, one team shouldn’t be shooting only 28% of that game’s total free throw attempts. It’s not as if a lot of UConn’s wounds weren’t self-inflicted, but it certainly didn’t help that even their attempts to avoid contact resulted in Iowa free throws.

Connor McCaffery scored 19 points and led all players with five assists, leading a strong bench unit for the Hawkeyes. Iowa (4-0) hosts Alabama State on Wednesday.

Alterique Gilbert scored 12 points on 5-14 shooting (1-9 from three) and led the Huskies with three assists. Christian Vital added 10 points and Cobb grabbed the team high in rebounds with seven. Tarin Smith, who never found his stroke tonight, was a defensive standout with four steals. The Huskies did not record a block in the loss.

UConn (3-1) hosts Cornell at the XL Center in Hartford on Tuesday night.