The Huskies kept it close at times but ultimately lost to the ninth-ranked Houston Cougars, 71-63, at the XL Center on Thursday night.
Still without top guards Jalen Adams and Alterique Gilbert, the Huskies struggled from the floor, shooting a mediocre .400/.333/.560, with only one player making even half his shots. The Cougars, meanwhile, had no such problems, making 11 of their 21 attempts from beyond the arc.
UConn (13-12, 4-8 American) was led by Christian Vital with 15 points, Sidney Wilson with a dozen, and Tarin Smith with 10. The Huskies, showing fatigue in what amounted to a seven-man rotation, went to the free throw line frequently but scored on only 14 of their 25 tries from the stripe.
Both defenses were active and aggressive in the opening minutes, with Houston scoring only in transition and UConn relying on long jumpers to put points on the board.
Houston’s offense opened up after what appeared to be an early slump, hitting three straight attempts from beyond the arc, which along with the Cougars’ swarming defense gave them a significant lead in the early going. The Huskies’ attacking offense had the benefit of piling up fouls on the Cougars, though, which ensured the game wasn’t too far out of their reach.
The Huskies took another lead halfway through the opening period on a corner three by Brendan Adams, keeping the Cougars on high alert for the rest of the half. Houston led 32-29 at the break, having broken a tie only seconds before halftime, due to an energized UConn side that applied relentless pressure throughout the first twenty minutes.
A listless start to the second half allowed Houston to take a double-digit lead before UConn even scored. The Huskies looked fatigued as soon as the second frame began, with players coming out of the locker room flat and uninspired, while the Cougars were much sharper than before.
A brief injury took Vital out of the game for mere moments, but in that time the Cougars increased their lead to 16 points, their highest to that point. Although his injury never appeared serious, the Huskies’ already thin seven-man rotation could not afford to lose another player, let alone a key contributor, and his return to the game was a welcome sight.
Even an injury-riddled UConn team was enough to make sure Houston never ran away with the game, but for a long stretch in the second half, the Huskies just couldn’t stop the Cougars from doing exactly what they wanted to do. UConn baskets were quickly answered, the Huskies were unable to get to the free throw line as they were in the first half, and they couldn’t keep the Cougars off the boards.
A Tyler Polley hot streak brought the Huskies back within 10 with four minutes left, and Wilson knocked down a three to apply pressure on Houston, but a miscalled shot clock violation—while UConn had a three on one break in transition—stalled the team’s progress. Houston’s driving layup on its next possession seemed to suck the life out of the Huskies, and the Cougars closed out the game from there.
The Cougars (24-1, 11-1 AAC) were led by Dejon Jarreau in an 18-point, seven-assist bench performance, and Armoni Brooks added 12. Houston stays on the road to visit Tulane on Sunday.
Eric Cobb scored six points to lead the Huskies bench, Josh Carlton nearly missed a double-double with eight points and ten rebounds, and Smith dished out seven assists. The Huskies have a week off before visiting SMU next Thursday.