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Takeaways from UConn men’s basketball’s 62-59 win over No. 15 Florida

It wasn’t always pretty, but the Huskies got the job done at Gampel.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

The UConn Huskies looked like a completely different team in their win over Florida than the one that got embarrassed at home against St. Joseph’s on Wednesday night. The Gators may not actually be the 15th-best team in the country, but it’s still a very talented group and UConn did a lot of things right to earn this win.

Here are our takeaways from the victory effort:

Failure to Launch

In the season opener against Sacred Heart, UConn got off to an ugly, sluggish start. On Wednesday night, UConn let St. Joseph’s rack up a 14-0 lead before the Huskies got on the board, 4:07 into the game. On Sunday, Florida held UConn scoreless for longer even longer to start the game, but only put up six points before Tyler Polley scored the Huskies’ first points.

UConn had nine wasted possessions in the first six minutes of the game, but played well on defense to prevent Florida from taking advantage.

That success on defense eventually transferred over offensively. Once scoring got started, UConn caught fire, rattling off an 11-0 run to get out in front of the Gators. From there, the Huskies barely looked back.

It isn’t great to see that this team came out flat again, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction that UConn never got down, played good defense, and did everything else they could to stay competitive. This time around, the Huskies did a good job of playing smart basketball and limiting bad shots. That’s going to pay off in the long run if they can maintain this level of discipline.

Magic in Gampel

After being challenged by various local writers across the state to show up to games at Gampel, implying that a lightly-attended mid-week game against a mid-major opponent was the sign of a non-supportive fanbase, UConn fans showed up in force for this big showdown at Gampel. They were firing up Hurley and the squad throughout the runs, clutch baskets, and biggest moments of this game. It was great to see.

Setting the Bar Defensively

The Gators gave the ball away 13 times on the night, as UConn’s defense looked much more active than it has before. UConn gathered three blocks, four steals, and 13 points off takeaways. With the speed and length this team has across the lineup, the Huskies should be a solid defensive team night in and night out like so many of Hurley’s teams have in the past. They showed what they’re capable of tonight, now we need to see it more consistently across the season.

Redemption for the Upperclassmen

Alterique Gilbert and Christian Vital took the lion’s share of the blame after the Huskies’ loss to St. Joe’s on Wednesday. Sure, they accounted for over half of UConn’s points, but were a combined 10-40 from the field and had a combined -31 net rating (points minus points allowed while on the floor per 100 possessions.)

Somehow, Josh Carlton and Tyler Polley got roped into the negative discourse, even though they had completely ordinary games against the Hawks. Those players were recruited by the previous coaching administration, and therefore are easy targets as the reason for this team’s woes.

All of them responded well in their next outing. Vital had 15 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals, and his dogged defense frustrated the heck out of Florida’s inexperienced squad. Polley went 6-13 from the field with three threes as he scored 15, while Carlton notched 13 with a team-high eight rebounds. Even Isaiah “Poppers” Whaley brought energy off the bench, scoring seven points and grabbing six rebounds and a block in just 17 minutes.

While these players may not be “Hurley’s guys,” it’s still encouraging to see that these upperclassmen are buying in to Hurley’s philosophy and excelling while bouncing back after an unexpected home loss to St. Joe’s.