UConn men pack a sunny attitude for road trip to South Florida
This is a season of frequent adjustments for the UConn basketball team.
Like the New England weather, all the Huskies have to do is wait a minute and the conditions will change, usually for the worse.
Throughout the stormy days, they've survived by keeping a sunny attitude.
"I just always look at the glass as half full and not half empty," coach Kevin Ollie said after Sunday's win over East Carolina. "You just throw it behind you and keep going. God is just trying to teach us something and I just want to be learning and through this difficulty and just try to get better.
"Some guys are just getting valuable minutes. They're going to help us in the long run. Whoever is able to play, we're going to play."
UConn gets a break from the lousy weather with a trip to Tampa to play American Athletic Conference foe South Florida at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Sun Dome. This is an important week for the seventh-place Huskies (8-11, 3-4), who are playing three teams below them in the standings.
The Bulls (6-12, 0-7) also have been snake-bitten. First, leading scorer Jahmal McMurray decided to transfer in late December. Then head coach Orlando Antigua was fired earlier this month and replaced on an interim basis by assistant Murry Bartow, a former head coach at East Tennessee State and Alabama-Birmingham.
The turmoil helped send them into a tailspin. They've lost seven straight and won only one game since mid-December.
Now it's up to UConn to take advantage of the situation.
In what's become part of their routine, the Huskies won't know until Wednesday if they'll have their full eight-man rotation available. Sophomore Steven Enoch, who's missed the last two games with a foot injury, remains day-to-day as is fellow reserve Juwan Durham. A Tampa Prep graduate, Durham didn't practice on Tuesday after sitting out Sunday with an ankle sprain.
"I'm not going to say it's something we get used to, but it is what it is," senior Rodney Purvis said Sunday of the adversity. "It's life. Different things happen. You've just got to put your head down and move forward."
The Huskies survived just fine with only six healthy players against East Carolina. They raced out to an early 20-point lead, avoided foul trouble and buckled down on defense to hold on for a 72-65 win.
The improved play of seniors Amida Brimah and Purvis provided a significant boost. Brimah stayed out of foul trouble, playing 30 minutes, after being limited him to a combined 21 minutes against SMU and Georgetown. He chipped in a season-high tying 13 points against the Pirates.
After scoring a total of 20 points in his previous three games, Purvis snapped out of his recent offensive funk and scored 16 points.
"I just want to try to bring energy," said Purvis, who's shooting a career-low 33.9 percent from the field this season. "I can't control if the ball goes in or out of the hoop. I can control my energy. That's all I try to do. Even if my shot is not falling, I feel I can rely on my defense to get in passing lanes and just try to get some easy layups."
Purvis also offered a veteran's perspective on his team's season of adjustments.
He pointed out that the Huskies are relying a young roster to carry them through these trying times. Freshmen Vance Jackson, Christian Vital and Durham are being counted on to do more than expected when the season began. Sophomores Jalen Adams and Enoch are adjusting to expanded roles.
Even Purvis and fellow seniors Kentan Facey and Brimah are still learning on the fly.
"There's still a lot of learning to do," Purvis said. "Guys are still trying to figure out things. We've definitely made progress. We tend to get a little comfortable at times and take a step back.
"Hopefully, for now, we can just continue to get better and take care of each and every day."
UCONN at SOUTH FLORIDA
Location: Sun Dome, Tampa, Fla.
Tip: 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Records: UConn 8-11, 3-4; South Florida 6-12, 0-7
Last game: UConn beat East Carolina, 72-65, Sunday; South Florida lost to Tulsa, 79-67, Saturday
Probable starters: UConn, 6-3 so. guard Jalen Adams (15.1 pts, 6.4 assists, 4.7 rebs), 6-4 r-sr. guard Rodney Purvis (12.2 pts, 4.5 rebs), 6-8 fr. forward Vance Jackson (8.1 pts, 3.6 rebs), 6-10 sr. forward Kentan Facey (8.2 pts, 7.4 rebs), 7-0 sr. center Amida Brimah (7.2 pts, 5.5 rebs, 2.9 blks)
South Florida, 6-4 jr. guard Geno Thorpe (13.8 pts, 4.1 assists), 6-4 so. guard Troy Holston (11.5 pts), 6-7 r-fr. forward Tulio Da Silva (9.8 pts, 7.6 rebs), 6-6 jr. forward Bo Zeigler (5.8 pts, 4.1 rebs), 7-0 jr. center Ruben Guerrero (6 pts, 5.7 rebs)
Noteworthy: UConn 1-5 in true road games, averaging 60.5 pts. ... Last place USF dropped seven straight, all but one by double digits. Last win over a month ago, Dec. 22 vs. Delaware. ... Series: Huskies lead 16-2, winning only meeting last season 81-51 in Tampa. Purvis 18 pts. ... Coach Orlando Antigua fired earlier this month, replaced by asst. Murry Bartow. Also lost leading scorer Jahmal McMurray who transferred. ... Top reserve: 6-8 fr. forward Malik Fitts (7.3 pts, 4.6 rebs). ... Bulls 3rd best 3-pt shooting team in AAC at 35.5. percent. ... USF out-scoring foes by 103 pts in paint. ... Huskies 1-7 when trailing at half. ... Injury update: Reserves Steve Enoch (foot), Juwan Durham (ankle) game time decisions. ... Hot: Facey with 3 double-doubles in last 4 games, averaging 14.8 pts and 9 rebs. Cold: Bulls averaging 16 turnovers per game. ... UConn with an AAC leading 5.9 blks. ... Second of three straight games vs. AAC teams with losing records. ... USF one of four D-I teams without a senior. ... Up next: UConn hosts Tulane Saturday night in Storrs.
— Gavin Keefe