If you hovered your hand over the panic button after the New Years Day loss at Cincinnati, it might be time to hit it after Saturday afternoon. The UConn men’s basketball team was blown out by South Florida 75-60, falling to 9-5 on the year and 0-2 in the AAC. Freshman James Bouknight led UConn with 11, and fellow freshman Akok Akok added 10 of his own.
Despite hints from head coach Danny Hurley of a lineup change, the Huskies trotted out the same five as they have all year. UConn jumped all over the Bulls with one of its best starts to a game this season, holding USF without a bucket for the first 2:50.
But Akok headed to the bench with two early fouls with around 12 to play, and UConn let USF back into the game with a 15-5 run. David Collins and Laquincy Rideau got into the paint with ease, either straight to the cup or dropping off to a rolling 7-foot Michael Durr, who physically outmatched Josh Carlton and Isaiah Whaley inside without Akok.
A lot of breaks didn’t bounce UConn’s way. Christian Vital and Josh Carlton saw layups roll in and out, while the Bulls banked in 3-pointers. Jalen Gaffney and Whaley forced a steal, only for the refs to swallow their whistle as Gaffney was tackled in the backcourt for a quick USF layup.
Yet as bad as it looked, James Bouknight was attacking downhill, and Alterique Gilbert looked in control of the offense. The Huskies entered the half only down seven, despite giving up 22 points in the paint and Akok Akok only playing five minutes.
Bouknight started over Polley to start the second, and Carlton was pulled in the first 30 seconds for Whaley. The reserve junior had some positive plays, but Hurley was whistled for a technical at 15:41, going bananas after another no-call on USF. A three on the next possession stretched the Bulls lead to 15.
Hurley kept searching for the right lineup to unlock a run, but USF’s physicality made every offensive set in the half court uncomfortable for UConn. The Huskies only looked effective in the open floor after a block or turnover. With 8:33 to go and UConn ramped up the ball pressure and mustered one last rally, but the USF lead never got lower than 12.
There was an air of desperation in the arena, with two under performing teams searching for their first American Athletic Conference win. South Florida’s physicality — especially against UConn’s undersized backcourt — took UConn out of the game. And with Carlton missing in action yet again, the Bulls feasted inside scoring almost half of their points in the paint.
The Huskies are now staring at an uphill climb out of the AAC cellar, and will look to right the ship on Wednesday, Jan. 9 vs. Tulane at Gampel Pavilion.