The UConn Huskies fell to .500 Thursday night after dropping a road tilt against Southern Methodist University, 77-59. The Huskies have now lost four straight, and are 0-7 on the road this year with their last road win coming at East Carolina, on Feb. 18, 2018.
It was a listless performance for the Huskies as they welcomed Alterique Gilbert back after he missed five games with a shoulder injury. However, the Huskies could never get in sync, and had no answer for SMU guard Jahmal McMurray, who led all scorers with 25. Tyler Polley paced UConn with 19 points, going 5-of-9 from three. UConn shot an ugly 30 percent from the field, while allowing the Mustangs to shoot 57 percent.
The Huskies looked like a team that had been off for a week by the way they started, looking flat on defense and lacking any inside presence on offense. UConn started off 0-of-9 from the field, perplexed by SMU’s 2-3 zone.
Then Gilbert checked in. Armed with a true ball handler, UConn began to right itself, and took the lead at one point. Gilbert clearly puts UConn on a different level. He and Christian Vital showed great chemistry on dribble-drives, and SMU’s once air-tight zone got picked apart. However, the team lapsed back into old bad habits, allowing SMU to recover and go on a 9-0 run toward the end of the half.
UConn’s switched to a zone of its own, which gave the Mustangs some temporary trouble. But overall, SMU and McMurray carved up UConn’s man defense, able to get into the paint with ease. The Huskies had no answer for SMU’s five-out motion offense, which pulled rim presences Josh Carlton, Eric Cobb, and Sidney Wilson away from the paint. The Huskies bit on pump fakes too much and left driving lanes wide open.
The offensive woes continued for UConn in the second half. SMU stretched its lead out to as much as 18, as the Huskies continued to miss both bunnies and wide open threes. UConn’s offense continued to come on broken plays, with next to nothing coming from inside.
Thanks to a tightened-up man defense that bottled up penetration, as well as some timely Tyler Polley threes, UConn found itself only down 9 with 3:30 left. But a McMurray dagger three from the top of the key over an outstretched Carlton hand kept UConn at bay and buried the rally. Every time a UConn rally gained steam, it had no answer for McMurray on the other end.
It was dud outing for the Husky frontcourt, which has been consistently inconsistent all season. Cobb and Carlton combined for six points and 11 rebounds, and shot three of 13 from the field as a unit. Some of that came from missed bunnies, but schematically, UConn did not feed the post as much as it should have.
Yes it’s a zone, but a high post flash almost always created a look today. Alas, it was not used enough. On the other end, there wasn’t enough foot-speed to go around to handle SMU’s motion offense. All three of SMU’s starting front line finished in double figures.
Sid Wilson continues to be active, but lacks polish. He finds himself around the ball, but struggles to convert. Wilson was 2-of-11 from the field, and a lot of those looks missed due to a lack of touch around the rim.
For better stretches of the game, SMU was able to do whatever it wanted on the offensive end. UConn fell for every pump fake, lacked defensive spacing, and was generally lost on assignment switches and screens. When they decide to ramp up the pressure, it can be effective (16 SMU turnovers), but it needs to be bottled and under more control.
Most of the Huskies’ ball movement around SMU’s zone was side-to-side around the perimeter. The lack of vertical penetration, combined with paint touches resulted in an incredibly stagnant half court offense. Cobb and Carlton tried to make post up space, but only received the ball sparingly at best and at worst saw just a cursory look into the post.
Everything is smoother with Gilbert on the court. Vital, for all of his positives, is just not a true ball handler, and is better served off-the-ball. However, Gilbert’s shot showed serious rust, going three for the 10 from the field.
If Wilson continues to progress, Gilbert finds his shot, and a consistent post presence is established, the semblances of a dangerous team are there. That’s a lot of ifs for the last week of February though.