The UConn men’s basketball team exorcised its demons in Tulsa and against Cincinnati, but couldn’t complete the revenge tour against Southern Methodist University. The Huskies lost 79-75 in a back-and-forth affair defined by streaky play and offensive execution.
Freshman James Bouknight led UConn with 21 points while fellow freshman Jalen Gaffney added a career-high 13. Sophomore Brendan Adams and senior Christian Vital joined the freshmen in double figures with 11 and 10, respectively. SMU shot a blistering 57% from the field, but otherwise it was a statistically even game. UConn falls to 13-11, 4-7 in the conference.
In front of a sparse “red-out” crowd, the Huskies opened up an early 11-4 lead. At least to start, defensive rotations were solid against SMU’s quick ball movement, and everyone crashed the boards with vigor. But after a wacky loose-ball sequence worth of the Benny Hill theme song, SMU woke up with a 13-2 run.
SMU’s five-out opened up driving lanes, and on the other end, buckets for the Huskies were hard to come by. Bouknight made some play to help the Huskies hang around.
UConn had no answer for the Mustangs’ floor spacing, with Feron Hunt in particular cooking anyone that guarded him. On the other end, many of the Huskies’ buckets came either by accident or forced turnovers on the break.
Heading into the half down six, SMU’s 20 points in the paint came mostly from spread drives off high screens, so the counter seemed to be going into zone and letting the Mustangs beat them with jump shots.
UConn trimmed a 10-point deficit to four, but then quickly gave it back again over the first three minutes of the second half. The Huskies did switch to zone, but SMU found the middle all too easily, and the Mustang lead stretched to as much as 15. (So much for my career in coaching.)
Six straight points from Brendan Adams helped the Huskies chip away, as UConn rattled off a 13-2 run to make it a four-point game once more. As if it were Groundhog Day, SMU responded with yet another 6-0 run to bring it back to double digits. Can you guess what happened after that? Back-to-back Bouknight and Gaffney threes brought the Huskies to within four again. The second half was blur.
With a four-guard lineup and Isaiah Whaley anchoring the middle, the Huskies demonstrated improved ball movement and shot selection, but struggled defending inside. Neither team could miss as the clock ticked away. UConn was down two with a minute left, but couldn’t tie it up. First Adams front-rimmed a wide-open three and then a driving Bouknight took a leaning jumper that rattled out.
SMU’s engine is TCU transfer Kendric Davis. The sophomore finished with 19 points and six assists, while Hunt turned in a perfect game from the field with 29 points. UConn struggled all day with SMU’s penetration, almost seemingly pressuring the ball so much that the Mustangs just blew by them with two dribbles.
For the optimists out there, Bouknight continues to blossom into a star, and UConn seems to suddenly have found its stroke from three, going 11-25 from downtown. Jalen Gaffney and Brendan Adams continue to step up their games as well.
UConn has never won at Moody Coliseum. And they’re not just winless; some of the Huskies’ worst losses came at the hands of the Mustangs in Dallas. But again, it was encouraging to see UConn fight back from a 15-point deficit, even if they fell short once again. At least they never have to play a conference game in Dallas ever again.
The Huskies will look to bounce back by hosting Memphis on Sunday, Feb. 16 at 3 p.m. in a game that will be televised on ESPN.