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UConn Men’s Basketball Hushes Wichita State, 80-60

UConn finally got the easy conference win it’s been waiting for.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Christian Vital scored a season-high 21 points to lead four Huskies in double figures, as UConn men’s basketball crushed Wichita State 80-60 at Gampel Pavilion on Saturday night.

Vital offered one of the best individual games you’ll see from any AAC player this season, as his 21 points came on 7-11 shooting (5-8 from three), with five rebounds, five assists, no turnovers, and a dominant defensive performance.

His efforts were aided by Jalen Adams’ 19-point, 12-rebound double-double, a dozen points from Tyler Polley, and an 11-point, four-block performance from two-way standout Josh Carlton.

The four high scorers all converted their shots efficiently, en route to an excellent .500/.458 shooting line for the Huskies (12-8, 3-4 American), who also out-rebounded the Shockers by a margin of 47 to 32. The Huskies missed 31 field goals and grabbed 15 of their own misses, giving themselves ample second-chance scoring opportunities.

Vital opened up scoring with the first five points of the game, which was quickly followed by a converted and-one from Carlton. As has seemed to be a trend recently, the Huskies took the floor hot, scoring the first ten points of the game, and holding the Shockers scoreless for over five minutes—without a field goal for seven.

The Wichita State offense, so feared in recent years, struggled throughout the first half, converting only 10 of 35 field goal attempts with only two connections from deep. The Shockers were giving themselves plenty of opportunities, taking care of the ball and doing fine work on the offensive glass, but a combination of poor selection and impressive play from the UConn defense kept their success rate to a minimum in the first half.

The Shockers’ defense fared a little better in the opening period, but not by a considerable margin. They allowed the Huskies to shoot .515 from the floor in the first half, and four of the Huskies’ six turnovers were on unforced errors rather than steals or pressure. A late switch to zone didn’t depress the Huskies’ scoring efficiency, showing that it wasn’t a matter of strategy causing the difference between the teams.

Even with a defense as active and aggressive as they’ve shown all year, the Huskies avoided early foul trouble for the first time in a while. Carlton had two fouls after 12 first-half minutes, and Sidney Wilson also had a pair in the opening frame, but no two Huskies at the same position had to sit out until halftime due to fouls.

Vital hit a 40-footer at the halftime buzzer to give the Huskies a 15-point lead at the break. The momentum carried over into the second half, as UConn took its first 20-point lead of the night only minutes into the second frame.

Alterique Gilbert ran into a hard screen early in the half, screaming as he grabbed his left shoulder, injuries to which ended each of his previous two seasons after only a handful of games. His absence was notable immediately; the Huskies slowed down on both ends of the court after Gilbert exited the game. Gilbert would return to the bench, but only so he could watch the game—he sported a big icepack under his warmups.

After the game, Hurley said “I think he’s gonna be fine,” and listed Gilbert as day-to-day.

Without their top court facilitator and important perimeter defender, the Huskies began to struggle. Adams was there to pick up the slack, though, pressing the Shockers with the ball in his hands and cleaning up the defensive glass to limit their opportunities.

After the initial period of adjustment, the Huskies went right back to dominating the Shockers, taking their largest lead of the game with four and a half minutes left, as Tyler Polley splashed a wide-open three. UConn’s three-point shooting had already appeared to revert to normal following a slump to start conference play, and tonight’s game seemed to confirm the period of good marksmanship was their true performance level.

Closing out the game proved to be no problem for UConn, not letting the Shockers within ten points in the second half. Mamadou Diarra made his season debut for the Huskies in the final four minutes of the game, scoring a bucket off a Vital assist. Diarra provided another body for a team in need of some relief, especially with Gilbert’s status to be determined.

The Shockers (8-11, 1-6 AAC) were led by freshmen Jamarius Burton and Erik Stevenson, who scored 16 and 12 points respectively, while NBA hopeful Markis McDuffie was limited to nine points on 4-14 shooting.

Gilbert dished out six dimes before his injury, nearly matching Wichita State’s total of seven assists by himself, and displayed his typically focused defense to nab two steals. The Huskies visit UCF on Thursday.