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Shots just aren't falling for UConn men

UConn freshman Christian Vital admits that it's hard not to get discouraged when your shot is not falling.

“Sometimes, it gets in your head,” Vital said. “You've just got to remind yourself what got you here.”

Not only Vital, but all the Huskies are trying to remain upbeat and confident in their abilities as the missed shots and losses pile up.

They've lost three of their last four games heading into today's American Athletic Conference matchup against Tulsa (6-6, 0-0) at 2 p.m. at the Reynolds Center. It is the first of two straight road games, with Memphis the next stop on Jan. 5.

It's not a secret that offensive woes are at the heart of UConn's struggles. The Huskies (5-7, 0-1) are averaging just 66 points per game — 10th in the conference — and shooting 42 percent from the field.

In Wednesday's 62-46 loss to Houston, they set an AAC record for fewest points in a half by scoring just 12 in the first 20 minutes.

“We couldn't get out of our own way,” coach Kevin Ollie said after the game. “We've got to make shots.”

Sure, the Huskies could improve their shot selection. But they're also missing a ton of open attempts, including too many within five feet of the basket.

Nearly everyone is a card-carrying member of the bad shooters club.

Four of the eight available scholarship players are converting less than 40 percent from the field — Vital (33.8) redshirt senior Rodney Purvis (32.9 percent), freshman Vance Jackson (31.5) and sophomore Steven Enoch (36.4). Reserve Juwan Durham checks in at 41.7.

Only senior frontcourt players Amida Brimah (66.7) and Kentan Facey (54.9), as well as sophomore Jalen Adams (48.7), have been fairly consistent. Adams is still recovering from a concussion, which forced him to sit out the Houston game. He was getting closer to being cleared to play and could be a game-time decision.

The Huskies let their offensive shortcomings affect their defensive effort against Houston, which shot 52.2 percent, only the second time this season a foe has converted higher than 46 percent.

“We can't let our offense dictate how we're going to play defense and that's what we did,” Purvis said. “We feel like if we play defense we can stay in the game regardless how the offense is going.”

As far as positives, the Huskies seemed to find some offensive rhythm in the second half against Houston, converting 13 of 27 field goal attempts.

It was an encouraging sign that both Jackson and Vital both heated up from the perimeter, combining to sink 7 of 14 3-pointers.

“To be honest, we've been getting those shots all season,” Vital said. “We just haven't been really making them. We just need to be more consistent on our end especially when we do get those open ones. I had a wide open one in the corner and it rimmed out. We don't have that many players so we need to take advantage of all the scoring opportunities that we get.

“… We just need to pick it up. I believe that we will.”

Maybe going on the road will help the Huskies.

So far this season, they've been a more potent offensive team on the road, including neutral sites, averaging 71.5 points compared to 60.5 at home.

A rebuilt Tulsa, which lost seven of its top eight scorers from an NCAA tournament team last season, has its own issues. The Golden Hurricane have dropped two straight.

Tulsa leans heavily on newcomers, as 10 players have made their debuts. Rutgers transfer Junior Etou, a 6-foot-8 forward, is the biggest threat. He's averaged 20 points and 7.5 rebounds in the last two games. Junior college transfer Jaleel Wheeler (12.4 points) is the only other player to average in double figures. Reserve Pat Birt, who scored 24 points in a 75-73 loss at Gampel last February, is a legitimate 3-point weapon.

They're mistake-prone, averaging 16.8 turnovers per game and also won't break any scoring records. They, too, are coming off their worst offensive effort of the season, managing just 56 points in a loss to Illinois State on Sunday.

It would seem to be a great opportunity for the Huskies to add one to the win column.

“There's no time to feel sorry for ourselves,” Vital said. “This is college basketball. Sometimes the wheel is going to turn your way, sometimes it's not. But we just have to make it turn our way.”

 g.keefe@theday.com

UCONN at TULSA

Location: Reynolds Center, Tulsa, Okla.

Tip: 2 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).

Records: UConn 5-7, 0-1 American Athletic Conference; Tulsa 6-6, 0-0.

Last game: UConn lost to Houston 62-46 Wednesday; Tulsa lost to Illinois State 68-56 Sunday.

Probable starters: UConn, 6-2 fr. guard Christian Vital (7.8 pts), 6-4 r-sr. guard Rodney Purvis (12.8 pts, 4.8 rebs), 6-8 fr. forward Vance Jackson (6.8 pts), 6-10 sr. forward Kentan Facey (6.3 pts, 6.6 rebs), 7-0 sr. center Amida Brimah (6.6 pts, 5.1 rebs, 2.7 blks).

Tulsa, 6-1 so. guard Sterling Taplin (7.3 pts, 3.2 assists), 6-4 jr. guard Jaleel Wheeler (12.4 pts, 5.4 rebs), 6-5 fr. guard Lawson Korita (4.8 pts), 6-8 jr. forward Junior Etou (12 pts, 6.7 rebs), 6-10 fr. forward Will Magnay (6.2 pts, 4 rebs).

Noteworthy: AAC road opener for Huskies, 1-1 in true road games so far. … Series: UConn leads 4-3, splitting last season with each team winning at home. Winless in two games at Reynolds Center. … Tulsa picked ninth in AAC preseason poll. … Golden Hurricane 135-31 in last 166 games at Reynolds Center. … Top reserve: 6-5 sr. guard Pat Birt (9.2 pts, 3.6 rebs). … Etou a transfer from Rutgers. … Tulsa bench contributes 26.5 points per game. … Turnover prone: Tulsa averages 16.8 per game. … Huskies 4-2 in games after a defeat. … Hot: Brimah shooting 66.7 percent from field. Cold: Purvis 6-for-30 from 3-pt range in last four games. … UConn 3-6 when scoring less than 70 points. … Injury update: Jalen Adams (concussion) game time decision. ... Purvis needs two points to reach 1,000 for his UConn career. … UConn 10th (66 pts), Tulsa 8th (68.6) in scoring in AAC. … Up next: UConn visits Memphis Jan. 5.

— Gavin Keefe

 

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