The UConn Huskies men’s basketball team defeated Division II Southern Connecticut State University Friday night, 96-64.
The Dan Hurley era got off to a shaky start, with Southern coming out aggressive early and the Huskies looking sloppy on defense. UConn eventually worked itself into the game, taking the lead for good with 7:13 left in the first half. While they struggled out of the gate once again to start the second half, the game was never really in doubt.
Jalen Adams: Facing disciplinary issues for a violation of team policy, UConn’s star senior was the last scholarship player to enter the game, as part of Hurley’s punishment. His outside shot looked like it needed more lift in the first half, but Adams hit a pair of threes in the second. He got anywhere he wanted to on the court, but struggled at times connecting with teammates on the final pass. Given that he also didn’t play in the Harvard scrimmage, it was a solid performance. He ended up with 16 points and three assists.
Christian Vital: We checked all the boxes for Christian Vital BINGO; diving on the floor for loose balls, questionable shot selection, a technical foul for trash talk, but overall a solid, steady performance. His on-the-ball defense was good, as was his willingness to push the ball on the break. Finished with 11 points, four rebounds, and three assists.
Tarin Smith: Will be a breath of fresh air this year. Quick to attack off the dribble, and an absolute pest on defense. Brought a nice calming presence, even on the break, and was always in control. He hit 8-of-9 free throws on his way to 12 points, five rebounds, and five assists.
Isaiah Whaley: Flashed the glue-guy ability. Active hands on defense, good screen setter on offense. Played within himself, and picked his spots on blocks nicely. Was one of the only UConn big’s I saw box out. Also hit both of his free throws as he scored four points and pulled down six rebounds.
Eric Cobb: The third big in the rotation, at least for now. Had several outlet passes that were a thing of beauty in the first half— that’s clearly something Hurley has been preaching at practice. Showed good footwork on his two buckets, and worked hard on defense. Got caught ball-watching on a few shots though, and took an ill-advised three that caused Hurley to put his hands to his head. Finished with four points and six rebounds.
Kwintin Williams: The final big in the rotation. Looked like a deer in the headlights at first, but got into the game by hustling. Kwint is active out there; he always finds himself around the ball, for better or for worse. He finally got to dunk in live-action, a nice tomahawk on the break. Of anyone, he seemed like a player who the more he was on the floor, the more he grew comfortable with his role.
Alterique Gilbert: An absolute joy to watch as he scored 10 points. A pure lightning bug out there with silky handles and heady play at all times. Pushed the tempo well, and that tone helped UConn pull away for good in the first half. On defense, he is reminiscent of Ryan Boatright the way he gets up and in players. His active hands led to several steals and deflections. Fought through screens well, showed no ill-effects on the shoulder despite hitting the floor hard a few times.
Oh, and he dunked.
Tyler Polley: A tale of two Polleys. He missed his first few shots, but they were good looks. Needs to work on lateral movement defensively. However, once he saw his shot fall, he was a completely different player. He relies on his shot to dictate his play, but when he’s on, he can be a real weapon.
Brendan Adams: UConn’s leading scorer with 17, Adams looked more athletic as advertised. The lone freshman showed good ball handling and a smooth stroke. You can tell he comes from a basketball family; his game has that sort of feel to it. On defense though, he’s a freshman, so he relied on his hands too much and that drew a lot of fouls.
Josh Carlton: Up and down performance. Had a sloppy turnover in the back court, only to impressively swat away the next chance. Would flash skill and size underneath on a few buckets, then the next play travel or get called for an obvious charge. He had a couple of nice hedges on defense, then would forget to box out a smaller opponent. Like the rest of the UConn bigs, he seems to be a player that can benefit from a set rotation, not the sporadic and seemingly unpredictable minutes we’ve seen the last two seasons.
- Boxing out and rebounding are still glaring issues, on both ends. For most of the first half, it was the Husky guards who were snatching rebounds. Whaley commits to boxing out, but the rest of the bigs are caught watching far too often when the shot goes up.
- Hurley has clearly instilled a desire to run on the break. On turnovers, the guards were flying, often passing ahead and attacking at will. It was just like the UConn teams of the early 2000s; if there’s a teammate in front of you, hit him and its off to the races.
- UConn’s team defense was hit-and-miss, but showed encouraging signs in the turnovers generated. Ball pressure had a big thing to do with it, and every guard is bought into the strategy it seems. UConn scored 21 of its points off the 17 turnovers forced.
- Schematically, the team needs to work on ball screens. They were a step slow sometimes in switching, or there’s miscommunication on what to do as far as hedging or fighting through it. That’s understandable given the amount of ball pressure Hurley wants, but its an area that will need to be honed throughout the season.
It was the kind of effort you want to see from an exhibition game: correctable mistakes, the right attitude, and a willingness to implement what you’ve worked on in preseason. We don’t want to read too much into it, but there are signs of maturity for this team and the newcomers seem to bring legitimate strengths to the table.
UConn will open its season against Morehead State on Thursday, November 8th at Gampel Pavilion, with top-off at 7 p.m. in Storrs.
UConn Men’s Basketball Postgame (Danny Hurley, Brendan Adams, Jalen Adams, Alterique Gilbert)