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UConn falls short in upset bid of Wichita State

POSTED December 30, 2017
BY Patrick Tiscia
Twitter: @PatrickTiscia

HARTFORD – If playing the eighth-ranked team in the country, on national television, and in front of its first sellout crowd in two seasons didn’t excite UConn, then it’s hard to say what would.

The Huskies, predictably, embraced the opportunity Saturday against Wichita State at the XL Center and gave their fans more hope than many expected. However, UConn, which found itself in a tie game with 9:25 left, simply did not have enough as the Shockers pulled away to a 72-62 victory in their first-ever AAC game.

And, unless there’s a miraculous turnaround, UConn will not have enough to make the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years. Saturday was a good example why.

Kevin Ollie used his 11th different starting lineup in 13 games. Expect to see the 12th different one Wednesday night in Tulsa. Isaiah Whaley, David Onuorah, and Antwoine Anderson all started, and all failed to score. Whaley and Onuorah didn’t even attempt a shot.

The Huskies played zone, but too often found themselves scrambling after Wichita State’s shooters. The Shockers (11-2) shot 12-of-25 on three-pointers, and seemingly had an answer from the perimeter every time UConn made a run. Landry Shamet (16 points), Conner Frankamp, and Austin Reaves combined to shoot 11-of-17 from three.

UConn, meanwhile, continued its dark offensive trend. For the fifth straight game, the Huskies failed to have someone other than Jalen Adams (18 points), Terry Larrier (18), and Christian Vital (17) score in double figures. Mamadou Diarra was the fourth leading scorer with four points. The Huskies missed 13 of their 16 three-point attempts and registered only nine assists.

“(Those are) the guys we got,” Ollie said. “I think they’re going to make shots, eventually. I think we sometimes get caught up in the moment. We can’t make mistakes (defensively), then come down, and try to play hero basketball.”

Adams and Larrier each played 39 minutes, which is to be expected with Alterique Gilbert out for the season and very little dependability on the bench. If UConn is to make any sort of run this season, Ollie must find ways for others to score.

“We’re still forming,” Ollie said. “We have new guys that have never been in this position, and I just want them to stay connected and keep learning. (Wichita State) has a few seniors that have been through battles and we don’t have any that have been through battles together. We have to get better and this is another good chance to learn.”

Very similar to their loss at Arizona two weeks ago, the Huskies played hard, were close down the stretch, but eventually lost by double digits.

“I thought our guys battled,” Ollie said. “I was proud of our guys’ effort. We’re just going to keep fighting.”

Moral victories, though, are not what the UConn fan base is accustomed to. At 7-6, the odds of the Huskies securing an at-large NCAA Tournament bid are extremely low, leaving only an AAC Tournament title as their only hope.

UConn played up to the big moment on Saturday. But with very little margin for error, it’s hard to see the Huskies keeping up that intensity game-to-game over the second half of the season. Ultimately, that will leave them on the outside looking in come March – again.

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