Between the countless NBA lottery picks, numerous conference championships and four national titles, there isn’t much the UConn men’s basketball team hasn’t accomplished. However, Dan Hurley and his squad will have a chance at program history Thursday night as they seek a win on the road in Tulsa for the first time ever.
The Huskies (11-10, 2-6 the American) are 0-5 all time at the Reynolds Center and have one last shot to grab a win before UConn heads to the Big East next season.
For at least a few of those previous matchups in Tulsa, UConn was the better team, but came out flat or was just outplayed by the Golden Hurricane to steal the win. This season, the Reynolds Center actually is a tough place to play. Tulsa is 11-2 at home this season and put a 80-40 beat down there on a talented Memphis squad just over two weeks ago. The Golden Hurricane haven’t lost at home since 111-104 three-overtime thriller against Colorado State on Dec. 21.
To make things worse, Tulsa (15-6, 7-1 the American) is hotter than ever, owning a six-game winning streak, with their most recent win coming last Saturday against Wichita State. That matchup against the Shockers is the only game the Hurricane have played since beating the Huskies in overtime at the XL Center less than two weeks ago and Tulsa remains at the top of the conference standings with their 7-1 record.
Against the Shockers, it was all about Elijah Joiner, who dropped 22 points and added five rebounds and five assists to help Tulsa to a 54-51 win as their leading scorer on the season, Brandon Rachal, struggled and scored just two points. Martins Igbanu, fresh off of torching UConn for 28 points, had a 10-point game but was largely kept in check by another Huskies nemesis, Wichita State big man Jaime Echenique. Igbanu did most of his damage from the charity stripe, with six of his 10 points coming off of free throws.
As a team, Tulsa played exactly to their strengths against the Shockers. The Golden Hurricane are one of the nation’s best at defending the 3-pointer, and Wichita State shot just 6-31 from deep, good for 19.4 percent. Tulsa, meanwhile, held on for dear life offensively, shooting just 9-29 inside the 3-point line and used a career performance from Joiner, who hit five of his six 3-pointers, to get the win.
If UConn wants to win, they’ll need to do a better job bottling up Igbanu than they did a week and a half ago. That comes down to better performances from Josh Carlton and Isaiah Whaley, who played just a total of 21 minutes the last time these two teams played. Of course, some of that was due to an incredible performance from Akok Akok, who posted 13 points, seven rebounds and seven blocks. While it’s impossible to ask that much of Akok for another performance like that, another strong game from him would be a huge boost for the Huskies on both ends.
Offensively, UConn has been horrendous from the 3-point line since losing Tyler Polley, shooting 33-132 from deep in that six-game span, good for 25 percent. Against a team with solid perimeter defense like Tulsa, that number isn’t going to get any better. Instead of gunning threes all game, the Huskies would be better off getting out in transition often and looking for easy buckets on the fast break. Pushing the pace also might be enough to take Igbanu out of equation for Tulsa for at least a few possessions.
Prediction: UConn gets a better performance from Christian Vital than two weeks ago, where he went 0-8 from the 3-point line, but they’ll need more than that to beat the Golden Hurricane at the vaunted Reynolds Center. Tulsa, led by Rachal and Igbanu, do just enough on offense and lock the Huskies down on the perimeter to get to 6-0 at home all time against UConn. Let’s never talk about Tulsa again after Thursday night. Tulsa 68, UConn 62.
How to watch
Where: Reynolds Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma
When: 7 p.m. ET
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network