Troubling trend a concern for UConn as it visits UCF

UConn's Christian Vital, left, and Jalen Adams talk during a game against SMU on Jan. 25 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
UConn's Christian Vital, left, and Jalen Adams talk during a game against SMU on Jan. 25 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Troubling, head-shaking results have added up this season.

Six defeats by at least 20 points — the most in a season in UConn basketball program history — definitely rank on the painful list.

Four of those lopsided losses happened following strong performances in the first game of an extended road trip, falling to Michigan State by 20 and Arkansas by 35 in consecutive PK80 Phil Knight Invitational games in Portland, at Auburn by 25 and at Memphis by 24.

Coach Kevin Ollie recently addressed that trend.

"I've got to figure out on extended road trips what's happening in our back-to-back games," Ollie said. "That's the one thing I'm trying to figure out, preparation-wise. It seems that second or third game on a long extended trip is where we have a big letdown.

"So just trying to figure that out and making sure the guys play at 120 percent.''

Once again, UConn (11-10, 4-4) is in the same situation, this time visiting Central Florida (13-7, 4-4) on Wednesday to finish a two-game road trip that started at Temple Sunday night. The American Athletic Conference game starts at 9 p.m. at CFE Arena in Orlando.

What's slightly different on this road trip is UConn already experienced a letdown.

Make that a major letdown.

UConn stumbled badly at Temple, suffering an 85-57 loss. The Huskies were outplayed in every department, including energy and effort.

There is some potential good news: redshirt junior Terry Larrier will likely play on Wednesday after sitting out three of the last four games. Bouncing back from last week's surgery to repair a fractured sinus wall, he practiced Tuesday and is considered a game time decision. When he plays, he'll wear a protective face mask for the rest of the season.

The Huskies desperately need Larrier's offensive firepower. Without Larrier, who's second on the team in scoring at 14.8 points per game, UConn averaged just 56.3 points while going 1-2.

Larrier's absence allowed opponents like Temple to zero in on shutting down junior Jalen Adams. Temple did just that, holding Adams to a season-low seven points, the first time all season that he failed to reach double figures.

It's just a matter of the Huskies making the necessary adjustments when Adams is blanketed, according to Ollie.

"Other guys have got to make plays, it's pretty much as simple as that," Ollie said recently. "We've got to look inside, too. ... There's no magic potion to it. It's just moving, Jalen giving himself up and other guys making plays off of Jalen being denied or being taken out of the game."

Wednesday's game against UCF is a rematch.

In the first meeting on Jan. 10 in Storrs, UConn posted a 62-53 victory. Sophomore Christian Vital (18), Adams (13) and Larrier (13) led the Huskies, who played stellar defense limiting UCF to 36.5 percent from the field. It was a physical game, as Larrier left the game after being elbowed in the cheek.

Some bad blood from that game could carry over. Vital was involved in two different confrontations with UCF players, one before and one after the game.

"Just fake energy from the other team...," Vital said about the brief incidents after the win. "They were just trying to get us out of our game because they knew they were going to have a tough one."

Chances are Vital's stinging words might have been brought up once or two in the UCF locker room.

Since that meeting, the Knights have dealt with their own adversity, losing starting center Tacko Fall, who had season-ending shoulder surgery. It's difficult for UCF to replace Fall's averages of 11.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.

UCF has had starting guard B.J. Taylor, who didn't play against UConn, back for a couple weeks after missing 16 games with a foot injury. He's averaged 18.5 points and five assists in the last two games.

Wednesday's game also will mean something in the standings, as UConn and UCF are tied for fifth place with Memphis.

The Huskies are searching for just their second true road win of the season.

g.keefe@theday.com

UCONN at UCF

Location: CFE Arena, Orlando

Tip: 9 p.m. (CBSSN)

Records: UConn 11-10, 4-4; UCF 13-7, 4-4

Last game: UConn lost at Temple, 85-57, Sunday; UCF lost at Wichita State, 81-62, Jan. 25

Probable starters: UConn, 6-3 jr. guard Jalen Adams (17.9 pts, 4.8 rebs, 4.1 assists), 6-2 so. guard Christian Vital (14.3 pts), 6-2 grad. guard Antwoine Anderson (6.5 pts), 6-8 r-jr. forward Terry Larrier (14.8 pts, 4.9 rebs), 6-9 freshman forward Josh Carlton (4.4 pts, 4 rebs)

UCF, r-jr. guard B.J. Taylor (13.8 pts), 6-3 r-so. guard Terrell Allen (7.2 pts, 3.5 assists), 6-2 r-fr. guard Ceasar DeJesus (9 pts), 6-9 r.-sr. forward A.J. Davis (10.3 pts, 8.3 rebs), 6-9 jr. forward Chad Brown (5.4 pts, 4.6 rebs)

Noteworthy: Both teams lost three of last four. ... Series: UConn leads, 11-1, winning eight straight including last meeting 62-53 Jan. 10 in Storrs. Vital with 18 pts, 7 rebs, 4 steals. ... Huskies 4-0 at CFE Arena. ... Top reserve: jr. guard Dayon Griffin (9.2 pts, 4 rebs). ... UCF 8-2 at home, UConn 1-5 on road. ... Larrier expected to play, missing last two games after nasal surgery last week. ... Sidelined: UCF's Tacko Fall (shoulder) out for season, UConn's Eric Cobb (suspension) out. ... Hot: UConn sinks an AAC-best 75.3 percent from line. Cold: Adams with 23 turnovers in last five games. ... UCF third in nation in scoring defense (60.2 pts) and fifth in FG percentage defense (38.1). ... Carlton averaging 10 pts, 8 rebs, in last five games. ... Magic number: UConn 8-1 when scoring at least 70 pts and 9-0 when allowing under that mark. ... Anderson 6-for-13 from field last two games after shooting 4-for-39 in previous eight. ... Up next: UConn hosts No. 8 Cincinnati on Saturday in Storrs.

— Gavin Keefe

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments