UConn men: It's little things that turn a loss into a win

There are no secrets at this late stage of the season.

Opponents know exactly what UConn wants to do on offense end and vice versa.

The difference between winning and losing, besides talent, often comes down to execution.

The Huskies earned a low mark in that department in Sunday's loss to Southern Methodist University. They shot a season-low 29.6 percent and scored just 55 points, the second lowest output of the season.

They have four regular-season games remaining to polish their execution, starting with tonight's American Athletic Conference game at South Florida (12-15, 3-11) at 7 p.m. at the Sun Dome in Tampa.

The evaluation process includes studying video to see where the Huskies (21-6, 9-5) went wrong.

"You've really got to keep analyzing your game," senior Niels Giffey said. "You've still got to do your homework. You've got to go back over the film and really look at how we can get better. I know people are going to look at this (SMU) tape and say, 'we can take this guy out of the game and do that and that.'"

Playing one of the AAC's worst defensive teams might serve as the perfect cure for UConn's execution issues. The Bulls, who've lost four straight, are allowing 74.6 points in league games.

UConn embarrassed USF 83-40 in the first meeting on Feb. 12 in Hartford. The Bulls shot an icy 24 percent and star forward Victor Rudd had just six points on 1-for-9 shooting.

USF coach Stan Heath expects a better effort tonight from his team.

"I don't even really want to talk about the first time around," Heath said. "It was a disaster, for the most part. We got off to a bad start and never recovered. I really feel this time around will be different. We're certainly going to be more competitive and we're going to give greater effort and I think our team will be more ready to go against a very, very good UConn team."

The Huskies aren't exactly brimming with offensive confidence coming in. In the last three games, they're shooting only 38 percent.

The starting five is in a collective funk, especially senior Shabazz Napier (18-for-48, 37.5 percent), junior Ryan Boatright (12-for-33, 36.4 percent), junior DeAndre Daniels (10-for-28, 35.7 percent) and graduate student Lasan Kromah (4-for-18, 22.2 percent).

"It's always frustrating not when you're broke yourself, but your whole team is broke," Boatright said. "We've got to get better, man, at all aspects of the game."

Coach Kevin Ollie pointed to a lack of discipline and trust as reasons for UConn's struggles on Sunday. The Huskies grew stagnant in the half-court, suffered breakdowns and committed 16 turnovers, one shy of tying the season high.

Ollie is encouraging his Huskies to keep the ball moving and not bog down when the first or second option fails. Against SMU, they had just seven assists.

"We've just got to trust each other," Ollie said. "I keep saying you can't do it on the first side. You've got to throw it to the second side. What I mean is reversing the ball and then you reverse it again to the third side, maybe even reverse it again to the fourth side and then you attack.

"… We'll keep teaching the guys. Our guys will keep learning."

Opposing defenses also are targeting Napier, who's often drawing two defenders on the perimeter or driving into a crowded lane. Despite his shooting woes, he's still scoring by getting to the foul line.

Down the stretch, UConn will face two tough defensive teams in Cincinnati (Saturday) and Louisville (March 8), which rank first and second, respectively, in scoring defense. The Huskies lost to both teams earlier this season.

"We'll get back to Connecticut basketball starting with South Florida and then we've got Cincinnati coming in here," Ollie said. "We've just got to play better."

g.keefe@theday.com

UConn at South Florida

Location: Sun Dome, Tampa, Fla.

Tip-off time: 7 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Records: UConn 21-6, 9-5; South Florida 12-15, 3-11

Last game: UConn lost to SMU, 63-58, Sunday; South Florida lost at Louisville, 80-54, Feb. 18

Probable starters: UConn, 6-1 sr. guard Shabazz Napier (17.8 pts, 5.4 assists, 5.9 rebs), 6-0 jr. guard Ryan Boatright (12.6 pts, 3.5 assists), 6-6 grad. forward Lasan Kromah (7.1 pts, 3.0 rebs), 6-9 jr. forward DeAndre Daniels (12.9 pts, 5.5 rebs), 7-0 fr. center Amida Brimah (4.2 pts, 3.1 rebs, 2.6blks)

South Florida, 6-1 jr. Corey Allen Jr. (9.6 pts), 6-3 jr. Shemiye McLendon (2.8 pts), 6-7 so. forward Zach LeDay (3.1 pts), 6-9 sr. forward Victor Rudd (15.3 pts, 6.8 rebs), 6-10 fr. center John Egbunu (7.3 pts, 6.2 rebs)

Noteworthy: UConn won four of five, USF dropped four straight. … Bulls' AAC wins against UCF, Temple, SMU. … Series: UConn leads 11-2, winning 83-40 in first meeting on Jan. 12. Huskies shot 53 percent, Bulls 24 percent. … At home, USF won two of last three vs. UConn. …. Rudd leads the team in scoring and rebounding. … USF averaging an AAC worst 61.8 points and allowing 74.6 in league games. … Top reserve: 6-8 fr. forward Chris Perry (9.3 pts, 5.6 rebs), the top scoring freshman in AAC. … Hot: Huskies sinking 80 percent from FT line in last three games. Cold: Kromah just 4-for-18 from field in last three games. … Huskies 5-3 on the road. … Up next: UConn hosts AAC leader Cincinnati on Saturday in Hartford.

- Gavin Keefe

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