Rebounding the focus for UConn men at Wichita State

UConn's Josh Carlton (25) battles for a rebound with South Florida's Nikola Scekic during Wednesday's 68-65 win in Storrs. Rebounding has been a season-long issue for the Huskies, who visit No. 2 Wichita State on Saturday. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
UConn's Josh Carlton (25) battles for a rebound with South Florida's Nikola Scekic during Wednesday's 68-65 win in Storrs. Rebounding has been a season-long issue for the Huskies, who visit No. 2 Wichita State on Saturday. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

There's no secret to ruling the rebounding world.

All it takes is toughness and tenacity mixed in with a desire to do everything and anything to box out.

"You don't need any talent to be able to box out and rebound," junior Jalen Adams said. "It's just toughness and effort."

Far too often UConn has come up short in the rebounding department this season, a source of frustration for coach Kevin Ollie.

"I've run every drill," Ollie said. "I don't know what else to do. As a coach, I'm showing them how to do it. The second thing, do you feel like doing it? Are you going to do it consistently? True toughness is the ability to do what's right over and over and over and over and over and over again. And that's what we've got to do with rebounding.

"... You have to care that much about it."

UConn (12-12, 5-6) will be challenged in that area on Saturday when it visits No. 22 Wichita State (18-5, 8-3) for the first time in an American Athletic Conference game at Charles Koch Arena (6 p.m., ESPN2).

The Shockers are ranked second in the country in rebounding margin at plus-10.5. In the first meeting (Dec. 30), they held a 47-34 edge, helping them post a 72-62 win in Hartford. They've been out-rebounded just once all season and posted double-digit margins in 14 games.

Give a talented offensive team like Wichita State, which leads the AAC in scoring at 83.3 points per game, extra possessions and the outcome is fairly predictable.

UConn barely beat South Florida on Wednesday (68-65) because it lost the rebounding battle (36-27) and allowed 15 offensive rebounds, leading to 24 second chance points.

"I think we've just got to be disciplined and stick to what we do," Adams said about playing Wichita State. "We know they're a great rebounding team, so we can't have the same effort and energy that we had (against USF) or else we're going to end up losing the game."

The Huskies, who are 9-1 when out-rebounding an opponent this season, have proven at times they can challenge teams with strong interior games. Against an always tough and physical Cincinnati, they were only out-rebounded by five in a 65-57 loss on Feb. 3.

When they secure their fair share of rebounds, they can fire up their transition game. They're ranked 10th in rebounding margin (minus-1.5) in the AAC.

"We've just got to rebound — guards, bigs, everybody," sophomore Christian Vital said. "Even the bench when they come in. We just need to rebound. When we do rebound, we're able to get out in transition. I feel like we are a really good team in transition."

It's never a good sign when two of your top three rebounders are guards, as Vital averages a team-best five boards per game and Adams checks in at 4.5. Redshirt junior forward Terry Larrier is second on the team at 4.8.

UConn needs more rebounding help from its frontcourt.

It can't afford players like graduate transfer David Onuorah (two rebounds, 43 minutes) and freshman Isaiah Whaley (one rebound, 52 minutes) to basically be non-factors in the last three games. Redshirt freshman Mamadou Diarra hasn't had a rebound in four of the last five games in limited action.

It will take time for 6-foot-9, 280-pound Eric Cobb, who was reinstated to the team Thursday after serving a suspension for the last nine games, to shake off the rust and be a contributor in the low post.

The Huskies are still searching for consistency in other areas, too. And they've won just one true road game this season.

"That's what we're trying to get better at, have them be more consistent," Ollie said. "When you give up offensive rebounds, that's inconsistency. We've got to finish games. We've got to play 40 minutes the same way. I'm not saying we're going to make every shot, but we've got to have toughness and we've got to play with a chip on our shoulder."

Travel woes due to bad weather delayed UConn's departure. The Huskies were expected to arrive in Wichita late Friday night.


Location: Charles Koch Arena, Wichita, Ks.

Tip: 6 p.m. (ESPN2)

Records: UConn 12-12, 5-6; Wichita St. 18-5, 8-3

Last game: UConn beat South Florida, 68-65, Wednesday; Wichita St. won at Memphis, 85-65, Tuesday

Probable starters: UConn, 6-3 jr. guard Jalen Adams (17.7 pts, 4.5 rebs, 4.2 assists), 6-2 so. guard Christian Vital (14.3 pts, 5 rebs), 6-8 r-jr. forward Terry Larrier (14.3 pts, 4.8 rebs), 6-8 fr. forward Isaiah Whaley (3.2 pts, 2.7 rebs), 6-8 r-fr. forward Mamadou Diarra (2.7 pts, 2.7 rebs)

Wichita St., 6-4 r-so. Larry Shamet (14.7 pts, 5.3 assists), 6-5 so. guard Austin Reaves (8.2 pts, 3.6 rebs), 6-6 sr. forward Zach Brown (5 pts, 3.6 rebs), 6-7 sr. forward Rashard Kelly (5.5 pts, 7.7 rebs), 6-8 r-sr. center Shaquille Morris (13 pts, 4.8 rebs)

Noteworthy: First ever trip to Wichita St. ... UConn tied for sixth, Wichita St. tied for second in AAC. ... Last six games, Huskies 2-4, Shockers 3-3. ... Series: Tied at 1-1, with Wichita St. winning 72-62 Dec. 30 in Hartford. Shamet 16 pts, Larrier and Adams 18 pts apiece. Huskies out-rebounded by 13. Shockers hit 12 threes. ... Top reserve: 6-9 sr. forward Darral Willis, Jr. (11.1 pts, 6.3 rebs). ... Shockers top 10 in nation in rebounding margin (+10.5, 2nd), assists (19.0, 3rd), assist-to-turnover ratio (1.59, 6th). First in AAC in FG percentage (47.6), UConn last 40.7. ... Wichita St. won 69 of last 71 home games. ... Hot: Reaves with at least 20 pts in three straight games. Cold: Huskies 2-9 at away-neutral sites, including 1-6 in true road games, losing by an average of 13.6 pts. ... UConn 0-10 vs. top 25 teams last two seasons. ... Vital leading scorer (15.4 pts) and rebounder (6.0) in last two games. ... Reserve Eric Cobb returns after being suspended for nine games. ... Up next: UConn hosts Tulsa Thursday in Hartford.

— Gavin Keefe


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