No. 17 UConn men’s basketball struggled all night against the Creighton Blue Jays, falling 59-55.
The Huskies’ (15-5 overall and 6-3 in the Big East) five-game winning streak ended due to an anemic 5-of-21 shooting night from three and sloppy late-game execution. Isaiah Whaley paced UConn with a career-high 20 points while RJ Cole and Adama Sanogo added 13 and eight, respectively.
It was the second straight out-of-sync effort from the Huskies, and this time they paid for it against a better team. Despite erasing a double-digit deficit in the second half, UConn fumbled away chance after chance to escape with a win and is now 0-5 in games decided by four points or less this year.
If you thought UConn looked offensively challenged against DePaul, the Huskies outdid themselves in the first half Tuesday. Isaiah Whaley had 11 of the team’s first 13 points, while Sanogo finished the half with only four shots. The offensive ineptitude was everywhere; missed bunnies, bricked wide-open threes, and some very questionable contested shots.
It was almost as if the frantic tempo threw UConn off. There wasn’t a dead ball stoppage until the 11-minute mark, and only four fouls were called between the two teams. It went from bad to worse when Tyrese Martin headed to the locker room with a stinger, but the senior returned a few possessions later and drew an and-one. His gritty performance couldn’t save the Huskies, though, who looked lethargic and disorganized.
All things considered, the Huskies were lucky to only be down 10 entering the half considering players not named Isaiah Whaley shot a combined 5-of-27 from the field. The Blue Jays also outrebounded UConn —the top-ranked rebounding team in the Big East — 27-16.
It wasn’t just poor execution, the Huskies were not aggressive enough, as evident by only two points off of eight Creighton turnovers.
But just like Dan Hurley’s Super Bowl-bound Cincinnati Bengals, UConn showed signs of life in the second half. Then Creighton sophomore Ryan Kalkbrenner, whose 7’2 frame was giving UConn’s bigs problems all night, went down with a rolled ankle after inadvertently stepping on Sanogo’s foot. A Whaley three tied it up, and the XL Center crowd looked ready to carry the Huskies across the finish line.
Even though Kalkbrenner was out, UConn did not make an effort to establish Sanogo deeper on the block. Cole and Jalen Gaffney did a great job making life miserable for freshman point guard Ryan Nembhard, but manufactured post-ups for Ryan Hawkins kept Creighton around. Nembhard abused any forward who checked him, to the tune of 23 points and 11 rebounds on eight of 12 shooting.
Down four with less than four to go, UConn was in trouble again. Creighton wore down every shot clock but always seemed to come away with a tough bucket, reminiscent of Kadary Richmond and Seton Hall.
Then Cole — a 90% shooter from the stripe — missed two free throws that the Huskies desperately needed. Martin clanked another. Down three with a minute left, the Blue Jays forced a tough fadeaway from Jackson, and Creighton sank its free throws as UConn tried to extend the game. A desperation three from Jackson kept fans around, but more gutsy free throws kept UConn from a miracle comeback.
Creighton picks up what will probably be a Quad 1 win and dramatically improves its resume for March. Despite losing its rim protector, the Blue Jays’ length and physicality flustered UConn all night. There was also an alarming lack of effort to feed Sanogo with Kalkbrenner out. The sophomore needs more than 10 shots in a game like that. Heading into a tough portion of the Big East schedule, Hurley and company have some work to do to iron out the very noticeable wrinkles on offense.
UConn will look to bounce back on Saturday when the Huskies head to Philly to take on no. 12 Villanova. Tip-off is at 12 p.m. and the game will be televised on Fox.