UConn men: Five takeaways from Dan Hurley's debut victory

Dom Amore
Contact Reporterdamore@courant.com

Dan Hurley’s Huskies began with a solid win. A good game. A nice night at Gampel Pavilion.

The day after, it’s important to moderate those adjectives.

Perspective: On paper, UConn’s 80-70 victory over Morehead State on Thursday night was not a whole lot different than the 70-58 victory over Colgate that started the 2017-18 season, Kevin Ollie’s last. That victory, also against a mid-major coming off a losing season, was met, in so many words, with, ‘Oh, boy, it’s going to be a long season.”

To the eyeball test, at least, this opening game looked much different. There were 3,000 more tickets sold, and factoring in no-shows, about that many more in the building. The Huskies’ defensive pressure presented the look of more energy, and they just looked better coached on offense. The first two times on the floor, Alterique Gilbert found Josh Carlton with deft, decisive passes for easy baskets and UConn never trailed. Though they let Morehead State hang around too long, you never felt UConn was in danger of losing control of the game.

Over the last two seasons, starting with the twin nightmares against Wagner and Northeastern in 2016, and through overtime wins against teams like Columbia and Monmouth and an even less convincing win over Coppin State, UConn often fell far behind, then tried to “flip a switch” and recover just in time.

Hurley’s Huskies didn’t suffer the lackadaisical start, or the long dry spells that marked the half-hearted approach to mid-major competition of the previous two seasons. Those are good reasons to be more excited about this game, and based on the raucous locker room scene the school tweeted out, Hurley and his players certainly took joy in it.

Some takeaways:

The ‘Al’ factor

Alterique Gilbert played only nine games in two years, and really looked only in flashes like the McDonald’s All-American he was coming into UConn. He is finally beginning to put some distance from that. Only he knows how much better his left shoulder feels after the third surgery, but he looks more confident, does not look like he is favoring it. And with Gilbert playing the way he did Thursday, aggressive and smart, 15 points, four assists, four rebounds and only two turnovers in 31 minutes, UConn looks like a much different team.

Hurley’s dash

The talking point coming out of the game was Hurley’s rush to pick up and pat Josh Carlton after he dove into the crowd. That was one of a few notable things about his night. He benched Christian Vital in the second half against Southern Connecticut after a technical foul, but pointedly said “he goes hard all the time and I have a short memory with guys who go hard all the time.” Hurley started Vital in the opener, showing, as he did with Carlton, that there are rewards for doing things the right way, as well as penalties for not doing so. And he talked about letting players, like Carlton, play through rough stretches in order to learn, develop, something we didn’t see in the recent past.

Jalen’s night

With two first-half fouls, and a third early in the second half, Jalen Adams was limited to 22 minutes, but he scored an easy 16 points with two assists and really anchored the team, like a senior, when he checked back in for good with 11:41 to go.

3-pointers, rebounding

UConn was 7-for-21 on 3-pointers, though the Huskies did hit three in a row during a key stretch late in the first half that allowed them to open up a 13-point lead. Jalen Adams was 0-for-2, Brendan Adams 2-for-4. Mostly good looks, and UConn just has to make more of them. … UConn finished plus-five in rebounding, which isn’t good enough against Morehead State, not with the game against long, physical Syracuse less than a week away. They need more work there, though Carlton’s eight were encouraging.

Conviction

The biggest difference in UConn’s play was conviction, decisiveness. The body language didn’t look like players were afraid to miss, afraid to make a bad pass or afraid of getting the ball stripped. They shot, passed and drove with a conviction that has been missing for a long time. Hurley’s Huskies, despite the too-close-for-comfort final score, just looked better prepared, which is the root of confidence.


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