More adversity hits UConn as Gilbert out for regular season finale
UConn has received its share of gut punches this season.
The latest shot to the mid-section adds to the painful list.
Redshirt sophomore Alterique Gilbert is out indefinitely after suffering a concussion and an injury to his right eye late in Thursday's loss to Temple. He was treated at Hartford Hospital and released early Friday morning.
The Huskies already are shorthanded with Gilbert's fellow starting backcourt partner Jalen Adams, the team's leading scorer, expected to miss his eighth complete game Sunday when they visit East Carolina (2 p.m., ESPNU) at Minges Coliseum in Greenville, N.C.
Adams is still recovering from a knee injury.
It is Gilbert's second stint on the sidelines this season. Yet another shoulder injury forced him to miss five American Athletic Conference games.
"People keep dropping at different times of games and the season, so it's just hard," junior Christian Vital said Thursday. "We haven't had really our complete full team since early on in the season. It's hard to keep on adjusting, especially in the first year with a new coaching staff."
There's reason for the Huskies, who've dropped seven of eight, to remain optimistic heading into the regular-season finale despite going 0-8 on the road this season.
First, they're playing an East Carolina team that has struggled mightily, losing eight of its last nine. The Pirates (10-19, 3-14) also will be playing without an injured starter as forward Seth LeDay suffered a season-ending knee injury last week.
UConn's last road win came against the Pirates in February 2018.
Also, throw in the fact that UConn won the first meeting this season by 24 with Gilbert out and Adams failing to score a point.
"We've got to get our prep done irregardless to who's available health-wise and give ourselves a chance to get a road win on Sunday and have some momentum going into the conference tournament," coach Dan Hurley said Thursday. "You can't blink. You can't give in. You've got to get ready to win the game irregardless of what's going on around you."
UConn will open the AAC tournament on Thursday in Memphis against a yet to be determined opponent.
Being shorthanded puts even more pressure on players like Vital, sophomores Josh Carlton and Tyler Polley, who delivered against Temple, combining for 60 of the team's 71 points.
But the downside is the rest of the team obviously did very little on the offensive end. That can't happen on Sunday if the Huskies expect to avoid finishing with a winless road record for the first time since 1968-69.
Vital plans on doing his part. He's coming off his highest scoring game of the season (26 points).
"Clearly, I'm going to have to play a little better and make less mistakes," he said. "That's going to be a challenge on me, but I'll take that on my shoulders and I'll embrace it. But it's not only me. ... Everyone is going to have to step up. I do know that I'm going to have to step up in a different way, not just scoring. And I'll do it."
This is the third time this season that the Huskies will be without both Gilbert and Adams. They lost both times, falling at Memphis by seven and at home against Houston by eight in February.
The Huskies certainly didn't respond well to Gilbert going down with seven and a half minutes left against Temple, losing the lead and the game.
Hurley refers to Gilbert as the heartbeat of the team.
"He's such a likable guy, fun guy to deal with every day because all he does is give you his best and all he does is care about UConn basketball and his teammates," Hurley said. "It's hard to see him just have to deal with the stuff that he has to deal with all the time. That was a gut punch.
"His teammates have seen this guy deal with thing after thing and it sucks."
UCONN at EAST CAROLINA
Location: Minges Coliseum, Greenville, N.CC.
Time: 2 p.m. (ESPNU)
Records: UConn 14-16, 5-12; East Carolina 10-19, 3-14
Last game: UConn lost to Temple, 78-71, Thursday; East Carolina lost at Wichita State, 72-55, Tuesday
Probable starters: East Carolina, 6-3 sr. guard Isaac Fleming (9.5 pts, 3.7 assists), 6-1 so. guard Shawn Williams (12.5 pts), 6-3 sr. guard Addison Hill (0.6 pts), 6-5 sr. guard Justin Obasohan (0.7 pts), 6-6 so. forward Jayden Gardner (16.5 pts, 8.5 rebs)
UConn, 6-3 grad guard Tarin Smith (8.1 pts), 6-2 jr. guard Christian Vital (14 pts, 5.8 rebs), 6-7 r-fr. forward Sidney Wilson (4.5 pts, 2.7 rebs), 6-8 so. forward Tyler Polley (8.4 pts, 2.3 rebs), 6-10 so. forward Josh Carlton (8.8 pts, 5.9 rebs)
Noteworthy: A win secures UConn the ninth seed in AAC tourney, a loss and an SMU win over USF makes Huskies a 10 seed. ... Series: UConn leads 10-2, winning last meeting, 76-52, Feb. 3 in Hartford. Carlton with 20 pts, 16 rebs, Vital 18 pts. ECU shot 33.3 percent. ... Top reserve: so. guard K.J. Davis (7.9 pts, 4.2 rebs). ... Injury update: Jalen Adams (knee), Alterique Gilbert (concussion, eye), ECU's Seth LeDay (11 pts, 5.8 rebs) out. ... Huskies 0-8 on road, last winning Feb. 18, 2018, at ECU. ... ECU's AAC wins vs. Cincinnati, Tulane twice. Lost league games by average of 13.8 pts. ... Pirates 10th in conference in field goal percentage (41.7), last in FG percentage defense (44.6). ... Gardner only player to rank top 10 in AAC in scoring (ninth) and rebounding (second). ... Hot: Carlton hit double figures a season-high three straight games, averaging 15.7 pts. Cold: Wilson totaled 16 pts last five games, going 6 for 30 from field. ... ECU 9-8 at home. ... UConn 2-11 in games decided by eight points or less. ... Huskies not won fewer than six league games since going 4-12 in Big East in 1987-88. ... Up next: UConn plays AAC tourney first round game Thursday in Memphis.
— Gavin Keefe
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