Hurley happy with win but not UConn's performance
Storrs — Wins keep piling up, but bad habits remain.
UConn coach Dan Hurley spent a good deal of his post-game press conference pointing out his team's flaws following a third straight convincing victory over an inferior foe.
The first seven games only reinforced Hurley's belief that the turning around a struggling program is going to take time.
The Huskies (6-1) scored a season-high for points in a 97-75 rout of UMass Lowell at Gampel Pavilion. But they lost their focus and lacked defensive intensity for stretches. While the outcome was never in doubt, they led by only 10 at intermission and gradually pulled away in the second half.
The halftime lead should have been at least 22, Hurley said.
"It's just bad habits and bad mindset," Hurley said. "We're not going to change that in seven or eight months. It's more frustration on my end because we're building a program, building habits, building a mindset, and obviously we're building our personnel.
"It's like I'm mad at them but it's not entirely their fault. ... We want to be there this year. I want to win this year. We have guys that want to win this year. We have to fix that mindset quicker maybe than it's realistic to do. I owe these guys to coach them like we're a team with a chance this year."
There's no doubt that UConn is a better offensive team this season. Four players have scored in double figures in every game, including on Tuesday when senior Jalen Adams (19 points), junior Christian Vital (19 points), sophomore Josh Carlton (15 points, a team-high eight rebounds, three blocks) and redshirt sophomore Alterique Gilbert (15 points, four rebounds, six assists) hit that mark. They tied a season-high with 22 assists.
And the Huskies are playing harder, too.
But sometimes they get caught up playing individual instead of team basketball, according to Hurley. That happened near the end of the first half.
Vital sparked an early outburst, as he poured in 17 of UConn's first 30 points. He buried three straight 3-pointers at one point. Reserve Kassoum Yakwe's inside basket capped a 25-5 spurt and pushed the gap to 32-9 with 9:35 left.
"I was just playing," Vital said. "My teammates were doing a great job of finding me and I just did my job and knocked the shots down."
Then the Huskies let down.
They stopped passing the ball and converted just two of their last 12 shots to end the half. The River Hawks (4-5) fought back, cutting the deficit to 44-34 at the break while taking advantage of defensive breakdowns.
"We started playing the score," Gilbert said. "We have a tendency of doing that, which is bad. That could come back and be negative for us. That's something that we're definitely working on as a team."
UMass Lowell ended up shooting 49 percent and 41.7 percent (10-for-14) from three-point range.
Those ugly numbers didn't sit well with Hurley.
"We start getting out of position," he said. "Our rotations, our close-outs got sloppy. We lose our integrity and we just become irresponsible. That's just a sign of a team that's not used to winning, doesn't understand what this thing is all about. We don't obviously have years and years of building winning habits in terms of our preparation. It was just a lack of focus.
"I thought we played pretty hard but we just ran around not obeying the rules of our defense."
UConn's superior talent was the biggest difference in the game.
Adams took charge to start the second half, scoring 13 points to help keep UMass Lowell at a safe distance. His steal and dunk handed the Huskies their biggest lead thus far at 77-53 with 9:13 left.
The Huskies remained in command from there.
With just under nine minutes left, redshirt freshman Sidney Wilson made his collegiate debut. He was suspended from game competition for the first six games. He grabbed a rebound and missed an open dunk and finished with no points, three rebounds and a turnover in five minutes.
"That was about what I wanted to get Sid," Hurley said of Wilson's minutes. "He's got the athletic ability and the skill set. ... In order for Sid to grow his role, just like any other player in the program, he's going to have to earn it in practice every day by being a junkyard dog and trying to make a statement every day to build the confidence in the coaches."
UConn faces a huge test next, hosting Arizona on Sunday in Hartford.