UConn had perhaps its best offensive performance in any road game this season, but 30 points from Rob Gray proved too much to overcome as the Huskies fell to 25th-ranked Houston, 81-71, on Sunday afternoon.
The Huskies shot .522 from the floor and .368 from three in the loss, but the Cougars matched them with a .400 mark from behind the arc, and by taking 10 more free throws.
Jalen Adams led UConn with 22 points and six assists, while Terry Larrier scored 19 and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds. Christian Vital added 11 points for the Huskies before fouling out late in the game.
Houston kicked off the scoring with a Gray three, jumping out to a 7-0 run before the first timeout, then adding six straight as soon as the game resumed. UConn remained at a distance for the bulk of the first half.
The Huskies didn’t get their big run in the first half, but their scoring outpaced the Cougars’ over the last ten minutes and they took a 38-37 lead into the break, thanks to Adams’ strong start on offense and sporadically great defensive runs. A defensive interior that played cohesively and communicated well led to several Houston turnovers, many of which UConn was able to convert to points on the other end.
A Larrier jumper was the first bucket of the second half, but Houston immediately scored seven unanswered to take the lead back, starting a sequence where the two teams traded leads back and forth.
A loosely-officiated game became a tightly-called one midway through the second half, with many fouls on each side of the court. UConn held the lead for most of this stretch, but Vital picked up his fourth foul on an off-ball violation with little contact with seven minutes left and was forced to the bench as the Cougars went back in front.
UConn was holding on to a slight advantage, but Gray kept hitting big shots, as he scored even when a good defensive play forced him off-balance and regularly got to the free-throw line. Gray’s performance ended up making the difference down the stretch, as UConn’s offense faltered while the Cougars had a go-to player that could consistently create opportunities for both him and his teammates.
Corey Davis Jr. added 17 points for the Cougars off the bench, and Devin Davis also finished in double figures. Houston (24-6, 14-4 AAC) finishes third in the American Athletic Conference standings, having lost the tiebreaker to Wichita State.
Antwoine Anderson added nine points for the Huskies and Josh Carlton made all three of his shot attempts. David Onuorah and Tyler Polley combined for the Huskies’ four bench points.
UConn (14-17, 7-11 AAC) holds on to eighth place in the conference standings and will face SMU in the first round of the AAC Tournament on Thursday. The winner of that game will play top-seeded Cincinnati in the Quarterfinals.