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UConn Men's Basketball: Five Takeaways From OT Win Over Monmouth

The Huskies pulled out another, staved off what could have been a devastating defeat, and on the UConn men’s basketball season goes. The goals remain within reach, though the Huskies will have to improve to reach them.

“Our guys have got to get down and guard,” coach Kevin Ollie said after practice on Sunday morning. “We’ve got to move our feet, be in position more. “

Columbia shot 50 percent in the first half against UConn Wednesday night, building a 15-point lead before the Huskies shut down the Lions’ 3-point shooting. Monmouth shot 51.8 percent across 45 minutes against UConn Saturday. The Huskies overcame both to win in overtime, but the next opponent won’t be so forgiving.

It’s Syracuse. At The Garden. Tuesday night.

“We’ve got to first of all beat the zone [defense] down by getting stops,” Ollie said. “We can’t allow Syracuse to shoot 51 percent, or there’s no way we’re winning that game. So we have to cut that down, and when we do face the zone, pass the basketball and cut down on our dribbles.”

Syracuse represents another chance to create some buzz around the season, as the Huskies did when they defeated Oregon in the first game of the Phil Knight Invitational. That put two more quality opponents on the schedule, but UConn wasn’t up to it, losing by 20 to Michigan State and 35 to Arkansas.

Coming home to beat two mid-major opponents in OT showed UConn can win close games, but on Tuesday they will first have to show they can make it a close game against an opponent like this.

“There is definitely progress,” Christian Vital said. “We’re getting better every day from these tough battles, we’re learning how to finish games and learning that we do need to have a better start to our games. … We can compete, but we need to do it for a full 40 minutes and if we do that, I like our chances.”

The Huskies, who beat Syracuse at MSG in the most memorable game of the forgettable 2016-17 season, will travel to New York early Monday morning and practice in Manhattan.

Here are some takeaways from the win over Monmouth:

Foul Trouble

The Huskies got Eric Cobb back from his ankle injury, but two quick fouls limited him to three minutes. Mamadou Diarra continues to show promise, but he fouled out after 22 minutes on the floor. David Onuorah had three fouls in seven minutes. Josh Carlton played 14 minutes with one foul. Ollie has the luxury of interchangeable big men, so he has fouls to give, but they sent Monmouth to the line 26 times and were lucky the Hawks missed 11 free throws. UConn needs more production from its big men, but they need to stay on the floor.

Missing The Rim Protector

Amida Brimah, who graduated last season, had his flaws, but he was an effective rim protector who blocked a lot of shots and changed many more. The high shooting percentage against UConn this season — 43.5 percent through eight games — is a testament to how important that element was. “Amida erased a lot of mistakes,” Ollie said. It puts pressure on the guards to keep ballhandlers in front of them, but with Alterique Gilbert out injured, the Huskies can’t afford Vital, Jalen Adams or Antwoine Anderson to get into foul trouble, either. It’s a fine line, but the Huskies must walk it for now.

Perimeter Play

The Huskies are still struggling from the perimeter, 7-for-21, though one of their players usually hits 3s on a given night. On Saturday, Adams (4-for-7) had the touch, Christian Vital (0-for-6) did not — this after going 7-for-12 against Columbia. Against the Orange’s ultra-long zone, perimeter shooting will be a must to stretch them out. UConn has ample 3-point threats, but needs to have more than one person hitting.

Ball Movement

Also a key to defeating any zone, especially Syracuse’s signature version, is moving the ball side to side, cutting down on dribbling, and get the ball in to quick, versatile Terry Larrier at the four-spot. The Huskies had 10 assists and 10 turnovers against Monmouth, so progress in that ratio is coming slowly. Assists aren’t always indicative of ball-movement, if there isn’t the shot-making to validate the passes, but the Huskies need to make sharp cuts, pass with conviction and stay patient with the plan. They looked good in a couple of big spurts against Monmouth when they did that.


You get the picture here — UConn simply has to show dramatic improvement in every area to hang with Syracuse, and have a chance to get a signature out-of-conference win. Oregon’s loss to Boise State and Arkansas’ 26-point loss to Houston this past week didn’t help the Huskies’ RPI, which WarrenNolan.com has at No. 72. So this is a critical game for UConn on many levels — resume-building; energizing its restless fan base; making a mark in New York, where the program has had recruiting success; proving it still belongs in the national conversation and wiping away the taste of the 102-67 loss to Arkansas.

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