For four games in a row, UConn has had stretches of great of basketball, but never for long enough to win anything. The Huskies have posted four gut-wrenching losses in a row, three of which came against ranked opponents and the most recent defeat coming at the hands of a surprisingly hot Tulsa squad.
Against the Golden Hurricane, Akok Akok and the rest of the freshmen helped the Huskies pull ahead late, with the lanky forward posting 13 points, seven rebounds and seven blocks. Outside of Akok, James Bouknight (16 points) and Jalen Gaffney (eight points, five assists) made key plays in crunch time, but ultimately the Huskies couldn’t do enough in overtime to get the win. But make no mistake, the younger, faster and more athletic UConn lineup changed the entire direction of the game, helping the Huskies out of a nine-point second half hole.
Fortunately for Dan Hurley and the Huskies, this lineup will have a chance for redemption Wednesday night against Temple, which features a smaller but defensively stout squad. While the Owls struggle mightily offensively, they are solid on the other end, ranking No. 27 in the country in defensive efficiency. This Temple team also excels in defending threes, which could be a nightmare for UConn considering they’re without Tyler Polley and shot just 27.3 percent from deep in the loss to Tulsa.
Either way, the Huskies (10-9, 1-5 the American) should match up well with the Owls, especially with Akok playing as the center. His motor and athleticism causes a slew of problems on both ends, and while he doesn’t necessarily have the size yet to bang with larger centers down low, his shot blocking prowess alone has already already dozens of shots this season.
Temple (10-9, 2-5 the American) will come to Gampel Pavilion looking for a win and riding a losing streak of their own, dropping their last three games — including a surprising loss to Big Five rival Penn last Saturday. Despite a solid 21-point performance from Quinton Rose, the Owls shot just 31 percent from the floor while four Quakers reached double-digits to pull off the upset at the Palestra.
Keeping Rose, a 6-foot-8 small forward and the Owls’ leading scorer at 15.4 points per game, will be key for UConn. While Alani Moore and Nate Pierre-Louis are the key players in Temple’s backcourt, the Owls offense runs through Rose, who is used on nearly 30 percent of Temple’s possessions and has no problem getting to the free throw line or passing to an open man. Based on Rose’s size and skillset, Akok will likely have the task of bottling up rose, with Sidney Wilson, Isaiah Whaley and possibly even James Bouknight pitching in for relief.
While Rose might be a lot to handle, the Owls don’t have much in terms of other scoring options. Pierre-Louis is the only other player averaging over 10 points a game, but Alani Moore and De’Vondre Perry are competent spot-up shooters, shooting 38.8 percent and 43.5 percent from three respectively.
Prediction: This game is once again shaping up to be a close one, and it’s hard to pick this UConn team to win when they really haven’t been able to push through when it matters. This time around though, the Huskies match up well with the Owls. Akok’s size should pose a real problem for Rose, and the freshman could easily put together another solid offensive performance and continue to stake his claim as one of the Huskies’ best freshmen in recent years. It’s been a long time coming, but UConn finally gets its second win in 2020 with a 69-60 win over the Owls.
How to watch
Where: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Connecticut
When: 7 p.m. ET
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network