(WTNH)–We felt good about UConn for a little while there, after the Huskies rebounded from a troubling loss to Maryland at Madison Square Garden on December 9 with four straight wins.
Somewhat impressive victories over Ohio State (75-55) and Texas (71-66, in Austin), had fans feeling like the team had turned a corner, and that its best basketball–if not the best part of its regular season schedule–was ahead of it.
Connecticut looked like it was going to cruise to an easy road win over AAC doormat Tulane, too, on Saturday night, leading by as many as 19 early in the second half.
But then, the tide turned. The Bad Huskies showed up, missing six straight shots and turning the ball over three times during a 5:33 scoring drought. Tulane improbably roared back, going on a distressing, confusing 17-0 run.
A pair of threes from freshman guard Kain Harris brought the Green Wave to within two at 51-49, with just over 10 minutes to go.
All of a sudden, UConn looked like a team that couldn’t get out of its own way again. Unsuspecting fans at Devlin Field House, which looks like a high school gym, found themselves at a ball game.
But just when it looked like the Huskies were going to slink into early NCAA bubble-team status, Sterling Gibbs took over.
The graduate transfer hit three 3-pointers and four free throws, scoring 13 of his 16 points over the final 6:32, and the Huskies (deep breath) held off Tulane, 75-67.
“We knew when we got him that we were going to have a player down the stretch who would take big shots — not saying he’s going to make all of them, but he will take them with confidence and he did that tonight,” Kevin Ollie said after the game.
Though Gibbs (11.8 ppg) has been up-and-down this season, he does seem to have a penchant for coming up big in the big moments. That’s what senior guards do, and UConn will need more of that from Gibbs in moments when the team is struggling.
This is the first time UConn has started American Athletic Conference play at 1-0, and given the tradition of this program, that’s kind of an embarassing stat.
Tonight against Temple
On Tuesday, the Huskies get a struggling Temple squad (6-6) at the XL Center. The Owls have played the 31st-toughest schedule in the nation thus far, and have lost games to North Carolina, Butler, Utah, Wisconsin, Saint Joseph’s and Houston.
They were blown out, 77-50, by Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars in their last game on January 2, so there will be a sense of urgency to come away with a quality win tonight in Hartford. Temple’s only good win this season is a road triumph over Cincinnati, 77-70.
Temple uses a slow pace, ranking 260th in the nation in points per game at 69.5, which is low for this season, thanks to the NCAA rule changes. They’re not a particularly good rebounding team, ranking 193rd in the nation, and that’s good news for the Huskies, who will be without big man Amida Brimah for another few weeks and weren’t a particularly good rebounding team even with him in the lineup.
Seniors Quenton DeCosey (14.9 ppg, 6.3 rpd) and Jaylen Bond (9.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg) are two players to watch tonight.
Temple swept UConn in two regular season games last season.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.