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    UConn Men's Basketball
    Monday, January 30, 2023

    UConn men drop first regular season opener since 1999

    UConn's Jalen Adams reacts in the final minutes of the 18th-ranked Huskies' 67-58 lose to Wagner in Friday's season opener at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

    Storrs — Opening night was a complete flop for the UConn basketball team.

    How bad was it?

    The 18th-ranked Huskies lost a season-opener for the first time since 1999 and suffered the defeat against a heavy underdog in Wagner at Gampel Pavilion.

    They were outplayed all over the floor by an experienced Northeast Conference opponent that returned eight players from a 23-win team last season.

    The ugly final: Wagner 67, UConn 58.

    "We're going to get back to the drawing board and we've just got to figure it out," coach Kevin Ollie said. "This is a dark time right now. But we're going to get better from it. I'm going to keep pushing these guys to do that."

    It's a stunning way to begin the season for the young and talented Huskies. They led only once, 2-0, and trailed by as many as 12 in the second half. The Seahawks played with poise down the stretch to pull off the upset.

    A pair of newcomers sparked the Huskies, as transfer Terry Larrier led the team in points with 19 and rebounds with seven while freshman Alterique Gilbert chipped in 14 points. But no other Husky reached double figures.

    "It's just an eye-opener for us," Gilbert said. "We're going to take it as a learning experience and get better from it."

    The Huskies looked like a team trying to incorporate six newcomers. They struggled on offense, shooting just 35.7 percent, and had too many defensive breakdowns. They also were out-rebounded by a smaller Wagner team, 37-33. The tallest Seahawk checked in at 6-foot-8.

    "A lack of intensity and lack of effort on our part," Larrier said. "We gave those guys confidence early on. With a team like that, they're dangerous. They're scrappy. They were going after it."

    Wagner controlled the tempo from the start and forced UConn out of its comfort zone. Mike Aaman did the hard work inside, contributing 15 points and nine rebounds, and Romone Saunders (15 points) scored from the outside before leaving late in the game with an ankle injury.

    The result caught Wagner coach Bashir Mason by surprise.

    "We studied UConn, a blue-blood program that we've got a tremendous amount of respect for," Mason said. "Watching these guys play in their two exhibition games, overwhelmed watching them with their talent, their length and athleticism. Honestly, the only way we thought we had a chance to be in the game was to try to control the tempo and take care of the ball.

    "Tonight, we were able to pull off probably one of the greatest victories in school history. I'm really proud and excited for our guys."

    UConn never really found a consistent rhythm and lacked intensity at times. The Huskies trailed 38-35 at the break and then missed their first eight shots in the second half.

    The deficit grew to 49-37 when Saunders buried a 3-pointer with 13:07 remaining.

    Then the Huskies played their best stretch of defense in the game, holding the Seahawks without a point for a six minute, 47 second stretch.

    The problem was that UConn couldn't produce enough on offensive end to overcome the deficit. Larrier's free throw capped a 12-0 run and tied the score at 49-all with 6:46 remaining.

    But Wagner buried big shots and grabbed key rebounds down the stretch. Marquis Salmon's 3-pointer pushed the Seahawks in front for good.

    "We've got to find somebody that can make some shots," Ollie said. "I think we had a span where we stopped them nine times in the second half and couldn't make shots. ... Every time (Wagner) needed a bucket, they made some big-time plays. That's what a veteran-laden teams does. They're a real, real good team."

    UConn's veterans had a dismal night.

    The returning backcourt of Rodney Purvis (five points, 2-for-7 from the field) and Jalen Adams (nine points, 4-for-15) combined to shoot just 6-for-22. The starting frontcourt duo of Amida Brimah and Kentan Facey had a total of seven rebounds and four points in 40 minutes.

    Until Friday, the Huskies had never lost a home opener at Gampel, winning all 27 previous games. Their last defeat in any regular season-opener came against Iowa (70-68) in the 1999 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in New York.

    "We've got to get tougher and that starts with me as a coach," Ollie said. "I've been some tough times, and we'll make it through this."

    g.keefe@theday.com

    Wagner's Mike Aaman, left, celebrates with Michael Carey in the final minute Friday night's 67-58 upset win over No. 18 UConn at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
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