After three-straight games against ranked opponents — all ending in close losses — UConn men’s basketball’s schedule doesn’t get much easier as they return home to the XL Center for a matchup against Tulsa. While the Golden Hurricane aren’t ranked, they come to Hartford as one of the hottest and most surprising teams in the American Athletic Conference.
Tulsa (13-6, 5-1 American) was tabbed to finish 10th in the AAC this season according to the preseason coaches’ poll but comes to town as the sole owner of first place in the conference with a 5-1 record and is fresh off an 80-40 demolition of No. 20 Memphis. After a 75-44 loss to Cincinnati on Jan. 8, the Golden Hurricane have won four straight, beating Houston, East Carolina, Tulane and the aforementioned Tigers.
In the win over Memphis, Tulsa played almost exactly to its strengths. The Golden Hurricane played solid defense, especially on the perimeter, where they held the Tigers to just 2-21 shooting from the 3-point line. They also racked up eight steals and created 20 turnovers.
Offensively, Tulsa was better than usual, thanks to a 21-point, eight-rebound performance from forward Jeriah Horne. Horne’s ability to score down low and step out and hit the three at 6-foot-7 likely means Akok Akok will be tasked to guard him. If head coach Frank Haith decides to stretch Horne out more and have him play mostly from the perimeter, Akok could have issues getting back to the paint and altering shots. Aside from Horne, Brandon Rachal does just about everything else for Tulsa, leading the team in points (14.8), rebounds (6.5), steals (1.9) and blocks (0.8) per game.
Assuming Tulsa stays hot and the Huskies continue to play like they have against the likes of superior opponents in Wichita State, Villanova and Houston, this game figures to be a close one. UConn, for lack of a better term, has been awful in close games throughout this entire season.
If the Huskies want to snap their three-game losing streak, they’ll either need to get out ahead early and try and turn it to another level and run Tulsa out of Hartford or make smarter decisions on both ends during crunch time. Both are easier said than done, and will likely require at least one starter to elevate their game to another level to snap this streak.
Yes, the refereeing has been shaky (and factually wrong once) this season, but UConn needs to put games away when they have a chance. So far, they haven’t, and that has impacted their record far more than any one call, decision, or play has.
Prediction: At least this game isn’t at Tulsa, where the Huskies have never once won a game. Thankfully, it’s a home game and it’s going to be a close one. If either Isaiah Whaley or Josh Carlton can contribute down low and Akok and James Bouknight can lock up Horne and Rachal, the Huskies have enough talent to squeak out a win against an overachieving Tulsa team. UConn 65, Tulsa 60.
How to watch
Where: XL Center, Hartford, Connecticut
When: 12 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network