After suffering their first loss of the season to Iowa last Friday, Dan Hurley and the Huskies got back on track with a solid 91-74 win over Cornell at the XL Center.
Here are our takeaways from the win:
Adams, Vital Meshing With Hurley
Even with a new coach that had as much hype as Hurley did prior to the season, it isn’t always a guarantee that every player buys in. Fortunately for Hurley, it seems like Jalen Adams and Christian Vital have handled the transition well.
Adams has been the stud everyone has expected him to be, averaging 18.6 points and showcasing an improved jump shot to go along with his ability to get to the rim. He seems to also have embraced his role as a leader on this team; he’s the first player to help someone up when they’re down and he’s very vocal on the court.
Hurley has said a lot about Adams with respect to the role he needs to play on this team beyond being a good basketball player, and even had him miss some time to prove that point.
Vital has had some ups and downs so far this season as he is adjusting from taking whatever shot he wanted to a much more structured (in a good way) offense under Hurley.
The junior guard posted his best stat line of the young season on Tuesday, scoring 19 points on 6-12 shooting while adding four rebounds. Vital took (and made) a lot of smart shots that came within the flow of the offense, and generated some buckets of his own with his usual tenacity and hustle on defense. If he can play consistently at this level, this UConn team will exceed expectations.
Great Guard Depth
With Vital on solid footing, UConn has five quality guards that are worthy of significant playing time between Adams, Vital, Alterique Gilbert, Tarin Smith and Brendan Adams.
Brendan Adams in particular has been a real eye-opener, showing some ability to knock down shots (especially from deep) and play defense. After the Cornell game, Hurley said he’ll have to find a way to give him more minutes.
Smith has been impressive as well, scoring the ball with ease at times and doing well running the point on offense. Hurley calls him one of the team’s most consistent players and best defenders, too.
Assuming everyone stays healthy, having too many good guards is a great problem to have. Any UConn fan knows the importance of guard play in college basketball, especially in the postseason, and it’s encouraging to see that Hurley has a lot of different ways to deal with off nights or foul trouble in his backcourt.
It also makes the future look a little brighter, too. While losing Smith and Jalen Adams hurts, Gilbert, Vital and Brendan Adams are a fun core that will benefit from the addition of James Bouknight and Jalen Gaffney in 2019.
UConn got burned a lot on backdoor cuts by Cornell, especially early in the game. This isn’t the end of the world, and makes sense that a Big Red team lacking any size or skill advantages tried to pit the Huskies’ aggressiveness against them. While it did lead to a ton of easy buckets in the half-court set and on press breaks, UConn did adjust as the game went on and it became less of an issue.
With a defense that has shotblockers like Kassoum Yakwe, Josh Carlton, Tyler Polley and Isaiah Whaley, it makes perfect sense for the Huskies to play tight perimeter defense knowing that a big man will be able to step up and alter a shot. With the Big Red spacing things out on the perimeter, no shot blockers were consistently available. Eventually, Hurley had UConn give some more space on the perimeter. It’s just good to see important yet obvious adjustments being made in real time and the Huskies responding, even with the defense being a known weakness for this team heading into the season.