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UConn no match for Houston

POSTED December 29, 2016
BY Patrick Tiscia
Twitter: @PatrickTiscia

HARTFORD – After allowing two consecutive dunks with a defender nowhere in sight, UConn coach Kevin Ollie called timeout and the decent Wednesday afternoon crowd (11,538) at the XL Center showered the Huskies with boos.

Whether someone was there to block those shots or keep those Houston players from driving to the paint wouldn’t have mattered. This UConn team, with three players out for the season and Jalen Adams out Wednesday due to a concussion, was no match for the Cougars, who jumped out to an insurmountable 24-point halftime cushion en route to a relatively easy 62-46 victory.

“(The fans) could do whatever they want to do,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “They paid their money. If they want to boo, they can boo. They have that right.”

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson was sympathetic of UConn’s bleak situation.

“(Adams) is one of the better point guards in the league,” Sampson said. “Playing without a point guard is not easy. It changes things up. I feel really bad for (Ollie’s) team.”

The identity of the 2016-17 Huskies is already clear. They’re an under-manned squad that’s feisty, but will struggle to score as evidenced by their 12-point first half on anemic 14 percent shooting. Some nights, the energy, quite frankly, won’t be there. It’s impossible with a limited eight-man rotation. On other nights, like earlier this month against Syracuse at Madison Square Garden, they’ll be able to scrap just enough to pull out a win.

On Friday against Auburn, the energy was there, however, their outside shooting, already limited, abandoned them completely in an overtime defeat. On Wednesday, it was apparent early that it’d be a long day for the Huskies.

In that ugly first half, Rodney Purvis led them with five points on 2-of-8 shooting. Christian Vital, Amida Brimah, Kentan Facey, and Vance Jackson combined to shoot 1-of-11 and that ineptitude carried over to the defensive end as they allowed Houston, which rolled to a win in Storrs back in February, to shoot 53 percent.

“It was a bad defensive effort,” Ollie said. “This was the first game I really thought the effort and enthusiasm was not there on the defensive end. We could not allow them to shoot 52 percent.”

These times are hard, but the playing time currently afforded to UConn’s younger players such as Jackson, Vital, and Juwan Durham will eventually prove valuable.

Vital (15 points) and Jackson (no points in the first half, 12 in the second) each had better second halves at least, finishing one and two on the team in scoring, respectively. Their helter-skelterness is to be expected for inexperienced freshmen. For the Huskies, it’s unfortunate they have no choice but to leave them on the floor during difficult times (Vital played all 40 minutes, and Jackson 37).

“We’re learning game-by-game, but sooner than later that has to turn into production,” Vital said. “No excuses.”

As we head into 2017, it’s clear this team, at 5-7 with four home losses and one of their wins against a Division II team, will struggle to make the NIT. With the AAC Tournament in Hartford, the Huskies will have a chance to give their fans a moment or two, as they did in 2015 when they reached the finals with a couple of crazy wins before falling to SMU in the title game.

That obviously wasn’t the hope coming into this season, which saw UConn ranked in the Top 25. But it’s all the Huskies have now. There's probably more days like Wednesday ahead.

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