UConn men fade late, lose to No. 8 Wichita State
Hartford — Once again, the UConn men's basketball team proved it is good enough to challenge but not beat a top 25 program.
The Huskies ended up with the consolation prize Saturday.
Great effort, but another loss.
For the third time this season against a ranked team, UConn remained within striking distance before fading down the stretch, losing to No. 8 Wichita State 72-62 in front of 15,564 enthusiastic XL Center fans.
The Huskies (7-6, 0-1), who've lost four of their last five, trailed by only three with under five minutes left in their American Athletic Conference opener.
That's when the Shockers (11-2, 1-0), considered an AAC title contender in their first year in the league, leaned on their superior talent, experience and poise to secure the win.
"Obviously, they showed why they've been talked about so much," UConn sophomore Christian Vital said. "Give respect to them. It's just us. We've just got to find out ways to just win these tough games.
"... It's definitely frustrating just because we want to win games. It just seems like we're right there every time. One play leads to a run for them. We're going to stay together and we're going to figure this out. If it's now or if it's later, we are going to figure this out. That I truly believe."
The Huskies used an active zone defense to limit the league's highest-scoring team well under its 85.8 points per game average. They forced 14 turnovers, leading to 19 points. Wichita State shot just 41.8 percent from the field.
But that wasn't enough for UConn to overcome an anemic, predictable offense and an icy 38.7 percent from the field.
"Whatever they did, we knew what was coming and we knew their tendencies," Wichita State guard Austin Reaves said about defending UConn.
The trio of Vital (17 points, five rebounds, four steals), junior Jalen Adams (18 points, six assists, five rebounds, four steals) and redshirt junior Terry Larrier (18 points) combined for 53 of UConn's 62 points. No one else had more than four points. Three starters went scoreless.
The sellout crowd — UConn's first since Feb. 18, 2016 against SMU — witnessed the first home loss of the season after six straight wins.
"I wish we could have sent them home with a great New Year's gift with a win," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "I thought our guys fought and we battled. We executed the game plan. But that's a team that's been together and played a lot of big time games together. They showed that execution in the last five minutes where we couldn't get any stops or make any buckets.
"All in all, I was proud of our guys' effort."
The Huskies trailed by four at halftime despite shooting 31 percent (9-for-29) and led only once in the second half, 43-42, but stuck around.
When Vital converted a three-point play the score was deadlocked at 49-all with 9:24 remaining.
The Shockers quickly responded.
Redshirt senior Shaquille Morris tipped in a shot to start a 12-4 run. Redshirt sophomore Landry Shamet (16 points) capped it off with a 3-pointer for a 61-53 edge with 3:36 left. The Shockers scored on four straight possessions at one point.
"They were really disciplined," Larrier said. "We've just got to come up with those offensive rebounds and stops in the last minutes of the game and be composed and score on the other end. It's something that we've got to continue to work. Everybody played hard. We're right there with those type of teams. We've just got to clean up some things."
Perimeter shooting was one of the determining factors, as Wichita State made 12 of 25 from beyond the arc and UConn went 3-for-16. The Shockers also won the rebounding battle 47-34.
"We've got to limit the 3-pointers," Ollie said. "They can't get 12 of those."
The Huskies made a late run to cut the deficit to six with 36 seconds remaining. But it was too little, too late.
Next up for UConn is its AAC road opener at Tulsa on Wednesday night.
"We're just going to keep fighting," Ollie said.
UConn coach Kevin Ollie’s opening post-game remarks pic.twitter.com/kfkZq4TbJE— Gavin Keefe (@GavinKeefe) December 30, 2017
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