Facing a large deficit in the second half, an energizing run by the UConn Huskies gave the team, and the crowd, new life, but it wasn’t enough. Cincinnati prevailed 64-60 in Hartford on Sunday afternoon.
The Huskies’ outside shooting has not recovered from the injury to Jalen Adams, especially as Alterique Gilbert still might not be at 100%, as the team converted only three of its 17 attempts from three. Despite stretches of success, the UConn offense was not at its best again, a slump that might now be worrying rather than a simple anomaly.
Gilbert and Christian Vital, neither of whom started, led the offense with 27 combined points, but neither were sharp from the floor. Tyler Polley hit a pair of threes, and Eric Cobb led the starters with nine points and five rebounds.
Dan Hurley went with a big lineup to begin the game, and the gamble paid off, as UConn took the lead at the first official timeout. The completely new starting lineup, most notably featuring both Cobb and Josh Carlton, aimed to combat Cincinnati’s physical style of play and rebounding prowess. Tarin Smith and Brendan Adams comprised the starting backcourt, putting the Huskies’ top scorers on the bench for the opening tipoff.
In an interesting change, UConn’s opponent got into early foul trouble, another positive byproduct of the Huskies’ decision to go big, which allowed Gilbert and Vital to play most of their first half minutes against sub-optimal Cincinnati lineups. The Bearcats still dominated the glass, but the Huskies’ tactical innovations kept them in the game for the entire first half.
The Huskies trailed 32-29 at halftime, with the Bearcat bench providing an unexpected spark as UConn mostly took the starters out of the game, whether literally or figuratively. Hurley out-coached Mick Cronin in the first half, but Cincinnati still led at the break due to superior rebounding ability and a deeper roster.
A sloppy beginning to the second half benefited Cincinnati, and the Bearcats extended their lead to double digits. The Huskies’ shooting went ice cold in the first few minutes after halftime and their defense, stout in the first half, became just ineffective enough for the Bearcats to go on a lengthy scoring run.
Settling for far too many difficult shots, and struggling to make the open ones, the Huskies trailed by about a dozen points for the bulk of the second half. A Bearcats cold spell allowed the Huskies to get back within single digits with seven minutes to go, thanks to quality defense from Carlton and Gilbert.
UConn’s defensive intensity continued, creating turnovers that led to points on the other end, leading to a 16-0 run for the Huskies. As the Bearcats went through a stretch where they made only one shot in 16 attempts, Christian Vital hit a pair of free throws that put the Huskies ahead for the first time since early in the first half, though they wouldn’t hold on to the advantage for long.
After Smith’s transition layup cut Cincinnati’s newfound lead to one point with 42 seconds remaining, East Hartford native Cane Broome bombed a three from well beyond NBA range to beat the shot clock and give the Bearcats a two-possession lead. Gilbert drove coast to coast to score a layup with six seconds left, halving the Cincinnati lead, but Keith Williams made a pair of free throws to secure the victory.
Bearcats top scorer Jarron Cumberland was held to eight points on nine shots. Williams’ 12 points represented the high mark for the visitors, while Broome and Justin Jenifer scored ten apiece. Cincinnati travels to SMU on Wednesday.
Carlton led all players with four blocks in another strong defensive performance for the Huskies’ quickly-improving sophomore center. Gilbert added five assists and a pair of steals.
UConn has lost four in a row and five of its last six. Next up, the Huskies visit Wichita State on Thursday at 7 p.m. on ESPN or ESPN2.