Vital's choice for favorite NYC guard is an easy one

New York — New York City has produced some great guards throughout the years.

UConn sophomore Christian Vital, who's from Queens Village, has his favorite.

Make that favorites.

"It's Kemba and Taliek," Vital said of the two former Huskies. "I don't know which one I could choose. I'll just say both of them. They paved the way."

Growing up in New York, Vital followed the UConn careers of Kemba Walker and Taliek Brown, who both authored their share of magical Madison Square Garden moments.

Walker sparked UConn's improbable 2011 Big East tournament championship run, becoming the only team to win five games in five days. His game-winning, step-back jumper against Pittsburgh in the quarterfinal is etched in every Husky fan's memory.

Brown's 30-foot, shot clock-beating heave late in the second overtime of the 2002 Big East tournament title game helped the Huskies knock off Pittsburgh, 74-65.

UConn returned to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night to play Syracuse in the Jimmy V Classic. The rivalry still holds special meaning to both programs.

Vital watched the classic six overtime battle between the two teams in the 2009 Big East tournament quarterfinal. "That's always going to be remembered," he said.

Vital already has authored his own magical Madison Square Garden moment. He drained two pressure-packed free throws with 2.2 seconds left to lift UConn past Syracuse 52-50 in last year's meeting. It was his only two points that night.

"That was a pretty special moment," Vital said.

Home away from home

• UConn considers Madison Square Garden a basketball home away from home. The Huskies have played more games there than any other arena outside of their home courts.

Tuesday's appearance was their 116th game at MSG where they owned a 62-53 mark.

They'll make two more trips there next season. In November, they'll join Syracuse, Iowa and Oregon in the 2018 2K Sports Classic.

UConn and Villanova agreed to play at MSG in a neutral site non-conference game on Dec. 22, 2018. It is part of a three-game series between the two programs. They meet this season on Jan. 20 in Hartford and complete the contract on Jan. 18, 2020, at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Gilbert still sidelined

• UConn guard Alterique Gilbert's injured shoulder forced him to miss his third straight game. He's still too sore to play.

Gilbert's left shoulder issues date back to his high school days. He played only three games last season for the Huskies before having his second surgery. He opened this season as a starter, averaging nine points, four rebounds and 2.8 assists.

He hurt his shoulder again against Michigan State on Nov. 24 and tried to play through it but really struggled against Arkansas before being sidelined.

There's still no timetable for his return. All options, including another surgery, are being considered.

"Anything is possible," coach Kevin Ollie said. "I don't know. We'll just figure it out. He's going through the process and weighing all his options. He wants to get back healthy. He wants to get back on the court, I know that. ... But we're waiting for him.

"We're talking to (team trainer) James (Doran) and we're doing it all together like we did every one of his other decisions. But the main person that is going to make the decisions, it's not going to be us, it's not going to be UConn, it's going be Alterique Gilbert. He's making the last decision."

News and notes

• Ollie was happy to be part of the Jimmy V Classic, which benefits the Jimmy V Foundation supporting cancer research. "What a great cause. My parents both had bouts of cancer and defeated it. With the help of them and the research that they're doing, it's saving lives. It's great to participate in an event like that." ... UConn recruited Syracuse junior center Paschal Chukwu, who's from Westport. Chukwu attended Providence before transferring. "He's a great person and very studious about the game," Ollie said. "Really serious about his education." ... Up next: UConn hosts Coppin State Saturday in Storrs before heading into the exam break.

g.keefe@theday.com

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