UConn men fall in familiar fashion to No. 8 Cincinnati
Storrs — It's become an all-too-familiar script for the UConn men's basketball team.
The Huskies play hard but they're just too flawed to upset a top 25 program.
The most recent example: a 65-57 loss to No. 8 Cincinnati, the American Athletic Conference leader, at Gampel Pavilion on Saturday.
The final score is deceptive.
UConn (11-12, 4-6) never really threatened after falling behind by 13-0. The Huskies trailed by as many as 19 and closed to within six in the final seconds. They've dropped five of their last six games, including two to top 10 teams. The Bearcats (21-2, 10-0) stretched their winning streak to 14 straight.
"That's a really, really good team," coach Kevin Ollie said. "Whenever we tried to get over the hump, they made a play. That's what top teams do in the country."
UConn junior Jalen Adams scored 20 points and Christian Vital added 18 points and a team-best nine rebounds while redshirt freshman Mamadou Diarra chipped in eight points, seven rebounds and two blocks while making his third start this season.
The Huskies scored high marks defensively, their active zone limiting the Bearcats to their second lowest field goal percentage this season (38.0). They lost the battle of the boards by just five (38-33). ... but they struggled to score against the AAC's top defensive team.
"I was really happy with Jalen and CV, how they competed," Ollie said. "I thought our bigs did a good job on the backboards holding that team down to 10 offensive rebounds where they averaged 14... At the end of the game, we've got to shoot better. We can't have five assists and we can't shoot 36 percent.
"We had some great looks. We've just got to put the ball in the basket."
So what's preventing the Huskies, who've lost all five games against ranked teams this season, from beating quality teams?
"I don't know," Vital said. "We play hard. You see we're down (19) and we obviously show we have the ability, we cut it down to six. We have the guys. We have the talent. We've just got to put it together. I don't know how. Obviously, we're still trying to figure that out. That's all we can do.
"... I know I'm not going to give up. I know my teammates are not going to give up. We're just going to stay together. That's the only choice we have."
There's some repeat themes, too.
Slow starts have killed UConn, which fell behind by eight at Central Florida Wednesday and by seven at Temple Sunday in losses. Cincinnati bolted out to a 13-0 lead on Saturday. UConn missed its first 10 shots before Vital scored on a driving shot seven minutes, 46 seconds into the game.
The deficit sucked the life out of the crowd of 9,170 that witnessed their team's first loss in Storrs this season.
"We were just fighting uphill the whole game," Adams said.
Outside of Adams, Vital and Terry Larrier, there's little offensive help. Only three Huskies scored in the first half while Cincinnati had eight players on the scoreboard and grabbed a 32-21 edge. Jacob Evans (19), Kyle Washington (13 points, 11 rebounds) finished as high scorers overall.
And the Huskies will have trouble winning any time Larrier, who's worn a mask the last two games after having nasal surgery, is just 1-for-8 from the field. He finished with a season-low five points.
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin believes UConn will be a dangerous team by the time the AAC tournament rolls around.
"They competed extremely hard the whole game," he said. "I think if they can play with the same lineup for the month of February when they have no injuries, come conference time, they are going to be one of the best five teams in the league. They just need to be healthy for a month. I can't even imagine, the mixing and matching is just so constant."
In other news, guard Alterique Gilbert spoke to the media before the game about his recent surgery on his left shoulder (his third shoulder surgey since April 2016). He's expected to be back in seven months.
"I feel good about it," said Gilbert, who's wearing a sling. "I've still got to rehab. As far as the surgery goes, it went well and I'm happy about it. ... I'm excited to get up every day and just get better and work."
Gilbert added that he's committed to UConn.
"Past two years have kind of been up and down for us," Gilbert said. "But I definitely know the history and tradition at UConn, there's another side to that. I want to experience that side."
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