UConn men lean on Gilbert's leadership
Judging from coach Dan Hurley's recent comments, no UConn basketball player is more valuable to the men's basketball program's future than Alterique Gilbert.
Make that the present as well as long as leading scorer Jalen Adams remains sidelined with a knee injury.
Gilbert is the heartbeat of the Huskies.
He's a major piece of the foundation for Hurley's rebuilding project. He's everything that Hurley wants in a player.
"Al is the leader of this program," Hurley said after Sunday's four-point loss to Cincinnati. "Al has a huge heart. Al values winning. Al is a great person. ... As we recruit and nurture and develop more guys with the type of mindset that Al has, you won't see us play in as long of funks."
The Huskies are in a season-worst funk right now, dropping five straight to match the program's longest losing streak since the 2006-07 season.
"We've lost five straight now," Gilbert said. "That bleeds into the program. Obviously, we haven't been winning and that's what we're used to here. That's something we have to get better at."
And odds don't favor the Huskies (13-14, 4-10) ending that drought on Thursday at Wichita State (13-13). Game time is 7 p.m. at Koch Arena.
They've yet to win a road game, losing all seven attempts. They'll be without Adams for the fifth straight game.
They scored one of their most lopsided American Athletic Conference wins of the season in the last game against Wichita State, rolling to an 80-60 victory on Jan. 26 in Storrs.
Since that meeting, the two teams have gone in opposite directions, with UConn going 1-6 and Wichita State 5-2.
It was a memorable first game against the Shockers for Gilbert for the wrong reason.
Gilbert crumpled to the floor after running into a hard screen. He injured his left shoulder and missed five games before returning against SMU on Feb. 21.
He's still trying to get back into the flow. He's 8 for 28 from the field and averaging 9.5 points in the last two games.
"It's day to day," Gilbert said. "I'll never be the player that I wish to be just because I want to get better."
No matter his offensive output, Gilbert, a redshirt sophomore, can still can be a significant factor on the court from his point guard position.
"He brings so much value to a program beyond whether he's making shots or not," Hurley said. "When he says stuff in our huddles and to our team, they believe it because he's a real dude. Everyone in that locker room, everyone on that coaching staff knows that Al Gilbert stands for the right things."
The Huskies will lean on Gilbert down the stretch. They have four regular season games remaining and then at least one game in the AAC tournament.
"He's like our heart and soul, the leader," senior Eric Cobb said. "He leads by his actions instead of his words."
Location: Koch Arena, Wichita, Kan.
Time: 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Records: UConn 13-14, 4-10; Wichita State 13-13, 6-8
Last game: UConn lost to Cincinnati, 64-60, Wichita State lost to Memphis, 88-85, Saturday
Probable starters: Wichita State, 6-0 sr. guard Samajae Haynes-Jones (12.3 pts), 6-4 fr. guard Jamarius Burton (6 pts, 3.2 assists), 6-5 fr. guard Dexter Dennis (7.8 pts, 4.7 rebs), 6-8 sr. forward Markis Duffie (18.2 pts, 4.8 rebs), 7-0 so. center Asbjorn Midtgaard (2.9 pts, 2.4 rebs)
UConn, 6-3 grad guard Tarin Smith (8.4 pts), 6-2 jr. guard Christian Vital (14 pts, 6 rebs), 6-7 r-fr. forward Sidney Wilson (4.8 pts, 2.6 rebs), 6-8 so. forward Tyler Polley (8.3 pts, 2.3 rebs), 6-10 so. forward Josh Carlton (8 pts, 5.8 rebs)
Noteworthy: UConn on a season-high five game losing streak. Wichita St. lost two of three. ... Shockers 7th in AAC standings, Huskies 10th place. ... Series: Tied at 2-2, with UConn winning the last meeting, 80-60, Jan. 26 in Storrs. Led by 15 at halftime. Vital with 21 pts, Jalen Adams 19 pts and 12 rebs. McDuffie limited to 9 pts on 4 for 14 shooting. ... Top reserve: 6-11 jr. forward Jaime Echenique (8.8 pts, 6 rebs)... McDuffie fourth in AAC overall in scoring. ... Injury update: Jalen Adams (left knee) out for fifth straight game. ... Huskies under .500 for first time this season. ... Shockers 9-4 at home, Huskies 0-7 on road. ... Hot: Vital averaging 7.4 rebs in last five games. Cold: Sidney Wilson shooting 32.6 percent (15-for-46) from field in last five games. ... Shockers shoot 41.2 percent from field. ... UConn 53-51 in AAC basketball history. Next loss will tie program high for most defeats in league season. Huskies 7-11 last season. ... Up next: UConn host USF at noon Sunday in Storrs. Ray Allen's number will be retired at halftime.
— Gavin Keefe
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