The Curse of the Bambino. The Drake Curse. The Curse of the Reynolds Center. All curses must eventually die, and the UConn men’s basketball team took care of theirs with a big 72-56 win against the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes. Prior to Thursday night, UConn had never won at the Donald W Reynolds Center, going 0-5 heading into today in its thankfully now brief stint in the American Athletic Conference.
Freshman James Bouknight led the Huskies with a career high 22 points, while redshirt junior Alterique Gilbert added 17. Senior Christian Vital added 10 and junior Isaiah Whaley chipped in 10 points and 12 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. The Huskies finally shot the ball well from three, going 10-22 from downtown against a Tulsa team that ranks as one of the best in the country at perimeter defense. The game was highlighted by a scintillating 11-point outburst from Bouknight in the second half to put Tulsa away for good.
Hurley opted with a smaller starting lineup, swapping a banged up Akok Akok for Brendan Adams. Junior Josh Carlton got involved early, which is always a good sign for the Huskies. The center was active on the offensive glass, and made an eye-opening physical block at the rim against Martins Igbanu.
But Tulsa’s No. 1 ranked defense in the conference alternated between man and matchup zone and forced UConn deep into the clock all too often. Plus it was another AAC foul fest, with both teams in the bonus with 9:32 remaining including three Huskies with two fouls. Yet despite a five-minute scoring drought, UConn was never down more than six.
Vital was whistled for a charge and picked up a technical for slapping the floor in response. A little hypocritical when Mike Stephens (ref) is theatrically and overdramatically signaling charge five seconds after the play, but I digress.
But through it all, UConn entered the half up two — despite the striped adversity — thanks to an 18-13 advantage on the boards, 10 points from Alterique Gilbert, and a four-plus minute Tulsa scoring drought.
Coming out of the half UConn stretched its lead to nine by 17:38, shoutout Fetty Wap. And while a steal and Bouknight layup put the Husky lead up to 11, it was followed by a double technical and Bouknight’s third foul. After that, Tulsa woke up, with Martins Igbanu scoring 12-straight points to engineer a 10-0 run and bring the Golden Hurricane to within one. UConn had no answer for the Tulsa big, who either passed out of double teams or overpowered Husky bigs for a monster 29 points, less than two weeks after dropping 28 on UConn at the XL Center.
But then, James Bouknight happened. He scored 11-straight points — including three 3-pointers — as UConn stretched its lead out to double digits again. Bouknight went to the bench with four fouls with five left, but a Gilbert and-one put UConn up 11 with 3:20 to play. By then, the million dollar question became; could they close it out?
The funny thing about a team that struggles in the half court is that they are inadvertently excellent at killing clock. The Huskies did just that, and walked away with a huge road win.
Tulsa was as hot as any team in the NCAA heading into today. They had won six-straight games, four by three or less and sat first in the AAC going into today. For a UConn team that’s lost seven games by seven points or less, including three in overtime, it was cathartic to see the kids get over the hump and close one out on the road. If Bouknight can continue his ascendancy and Gilbert stretch the floor, we might be looking at a dangerous UConn team going into March.
But first, the Huskies head home to host Cincinnati for a Sunday, Feb. 9 matchup at noon at Gampel.