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Adams on target thanks to a little help from UConn teammates

It's hard to say which was the biggest surprise on Sunday.

That Jalen Adams missed a wide-open perimeter attempt in a tight game with Arizona, or that UConn's best player found himself so all alone.

Unlike last season when UConn's leading man always drew a defensive crowd, Adams is finding a little more breathing room now.

Adams is benefiting from that freedom.

While only slightly raising his scoring average (18.1 to 18.8), his shooting percentage has soared to 56.5 percent, an impressive number for anyone, but especially for a player with a career field goal percentage of 42.9 percent entering this season. He converted just 43 percent last season.

Adams will see if he can continue his torrid shooting pace on Wednesday when UConn (6-2) hosts Lafayette (2-5), a member of the Patriot League at the XL Center in Hartford (6 p.m., ESPNU).

In Sunday's loss to Arizona, Adams helped carry the attack, finishing with a game-high 21 points and converting 9-for-16 from the field.

"I don't think we had too many guys play well offensively," coach Dan Hurley said on Sunday. "Jalen, minus the five turnovers, was pretty good. He had a couple of great looks at threes in the second half. He could have easily put a 30-spot up there."

Several factors are behind Adams' improvement.

First-year coach Dan Hurley set some high standards for Adams in the preseason, targeting several areas that his star guard needed to polish. Perimeter shooting was the list.

Adams tirelessly worked overtime on his shot.

He also has a stronger supporting cast this season, so defenders can't just focus on stopping the senior guard. The return of Alterique Gilbert has certainly helped as well as the addition of grad transfer Tarin Smith.

"It's just working with our coaching staff, putting up extra shots, and then just my teammates," Adams explained. "They give me the ball in the right scoring areas so that I don't have to take so many difficult shots. And then just the talent that we have. Just us having so many guards that are able to score, teams kind of have to play me honest. They can't really favor toward me. They have to guard everybody else."

With a deeper backcourt, Adams no longer has to play marathon minutes. He's averaging 30.4 minutes compared to a career-high 38.1 last season.

A rested Adams is a more productive and efficient Adams.

Adams also likes the fact that he can play off the ball more this season. Gilbert, who leads the team in assists, is doing a good job of taking some heat off Adams and finding his teammate, leading to higher percentage shots.

"With Alterique coming back, the whole defense isn't watching me bring the ball up the court and then trying to go score," Adams said. "I can get off the ball a little bit. Alterique can maybe score or just set the offense up. And then it's me coming from out of the corner to score.

"It's just a whole different attack for our team. It gives everybody more freedom and more wiggle room to create."

The final piece is shot selection.

Adams is taking better shots and also finishing through contact at the rim.

"I'd say the floor is more open than it was in previous years," he said. "Just the trust that we have in each other helps us to get those high percentages, or for me personally because I know I don't have to go and jack up a contested shot. I know CV (Christian Vital) or Alterique is going to make that extra pass to get me wide open so I can shoot a clean shot rather than a contested one."

There's still plenty of room for improvement. Adams remains turnover-prone, ranking second on the team with 21. He's also shooting 31.4 percent from 3-point range.

Tougher days are ahead for Adams and the Huskies.

Opposing defenses will tailor a game plan around frustrating Adams.

So far, Adams has put up good numbers against stiff competition, shooting a combined 47.8 percent (22-for-46) versus Syracuse, Iowa and Arizona.

Let's see if that trend continues on Saturday when UConn plays No. 11 Florida State in Newark, N.J.

g.keeefe@theday.com

UCONN vs. LAFAYETTE

Location: XL Center, Hartford

Tip: 6 p.m. (ESPNU)

Records: UConn 6-2, Lafayette 2-5

Last game: UConn lost to Arizona, 76-72, Sunday; Lafayette lost to Sacred Heart, 64-62, Sunday

Probable starters: Lafayette, 6-1 so. guard Justin Jaworski (13.3 pts), 6-3 so. guard E.J. Stephens (6.8 pts), 6-4 fr. Guard Isaac Suffren (5.7 pts), 6-7 jr. forward Lukas Jarrrett (5.6 pts, 4.6 rebs), 6-8 jr. forward Myles Cherry (8.4 pts, 7.7 rebs)

UConn, 6-3 sr. guard Jalen Adams (18.8 pts), 6-0 redshirt so. guard Alterique Gilbert (12.5 pts, 4 assists), 6-2 jr. guard Christian Vital (12.1 pts, 5.1 rebs), 6-8 so. forward Tyler Polley (8.8 pts, 2.9 rebs), 6-10 so. forward Josh Carlton (8.4 pts, 4.1 rebs)

Noteworthy: UConn has won 32 straight vs. current members of the Patriot League, last losing to Boston University in 1986. ... Series: UConn leads, 3-0, first meeting since 1994. ... Leopards wins vs. Fairleigh Dickinson and LaSalle. ... Common foes: Cornell — UConn won 91-74, Lafayette lost 63-58 (OT). ...  Top reserve: 6-3 so. Alex Petrie (14.3 pts). ... Leopards average 14.6 turnovers per game and shoot 43.3 percent from field. ... Hot: Eric Cobb shooting 70.3 percent (26-for-37) from field. Cold: Tarin Smith 5-for-17 from field in last three games. ... Huskies averaging 85 pts after scoring 68.2 pts per game last season. ... Cobb needs two rebounds to top last season's total of 40 in 15 games. ... Magic number: UConn 6-0 when scoring more than 72 points. ... Up next: UConn plays No. 11 Florida State Saturday night in Never Forget Tribute Classic at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

— Gavin Keefe

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