Having lost their last two games, the Huskies are in desperate need of a victory to stop their skid before the first game of the American Athletic Conference Tournament. Their final game of the season is on the road, where they have struggled all season, and tonight’s skirmish with Temple might be UConn’s last chance to pick up a final regular-season win.
The Owls won’t be an easy opponent, of course. In these teams’ prior matchup in late January, Temple won by 28 points, holding Christian Vital and Jalen Adams to a combined 5-24 shooting line while Terry Larrier did not play. Temple has improved over the course of the season, evolving far beyond the team that only scored 39 points against Central Florida.
Fran Dunphy’s squad runs a conservative offense, plays a slow tempo that the Huskies will be used to, and avoids contact and turnovers. Temple rarely shoots free throws but protects the ball well, assuring that nearly every possession ends with a decent shot. Without much individual talent, this is a strategy that has helped maximize their offensive output.
One area where the Owls can struggle is with their outside shooting, as they haven’t figured out their best shooters quite yet. Obi Enechionyia has become their go-to specialist, attempting the most 3-pointers per game, but has one of the lowest percentages on the team. Nate Pierre-Louis and Shizz Alston are the Owls’ top offensive players, and both are better distance shooters, even if they don’t pull the trigger at quite the same frequency. They have enough capable shooters to spread the ball around, and normally decide to move the ball to the open man rather than riding a hot hand, but this approach can get them in trouble in the right circumstance.
UConn’s going to have to play tight perimeter defense to take away some of Temple’s scoring opportunities. The Owls run a tall backcourt rotation, so it’s likely Terry Larrier and Tyler Polley will both get extended minutes, even if the two have been inconsistent on defense this year. Vital and Adams will have to be big contributors on defense in order to make the gameplan work.
The defensive end is where Enechionyia truly shines, and Temple also gets stops from junior center Ernest Aflakpui and freshman J.P. Moorman, who comes off the bench and immediately improves the effectiveness of the defense. The Owls trust themselves enough defensively to take risks and chase steals, which means the UConn passing must be crisp in order to avoid these traps.
Those two suggestions are more of imperatives for a UConn squad that has struggled with perimeter defense and ball control all season. Thankfully, Temple shies away from physical play, or the Huskies’ recurring issues with foul trouble could also cause problems for them. Larrier’s return will help ensure the Huskies won’t lose by 28 points again, but Temple’s strengths and on-court strategies do not play into UConn’s favor. It may be difficult for the Huskies to come away with a win in their last home game of 2017-18.
PREDICTION: Temple 68, UConn 56