No. 22 UConn entered Thursday’s game at No. 7 Cincinnati shorthanded, with junior forward and second-leading scorer and rebounder DeAndre Daniels ruled out due to a case of back spasms. Without Daniels, and with the Bearcats among the nation’s best when it comes to offensive rebounding, at first glance it seemed as if rebounding would be the Huskies’ biggest concern against the American Athletic Conference’s best team.
Ultimately UConn’s problem would be their work on the offensive end of the floor, as their second-half struggles were a big reason why they dropped a 63-58 decision.
Cincinnati’s impressive senior tandem of Sean Kilpatrick (26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists) and Justin Jackson (15 points, six rebounds) were the biggest factors in the outcome, but the Bearcats’ defense was also an issue for UConn. After shooting 46.2% in the first half UConn made just 32.0% of its shots in the second half, settling far too often for challenged looks from the perimeter.
Senior point guard Shabazz Napier struggled the most in the second half, making just two of his 12 attempts from the field (1-for-8 3PT). Obviously Napier will be the primary decision-maker for Kevin Ollie and to be frank he’s earned that right over the last season-plus, leading the team as a scorer while also being a solid distributor. However the balanced shot distribution that was present in the first half wasn’t there in the second, with no other Husky attempting more than five shots (Lasan Kromah).
In the first half the Huskies were balanced in their shot distribution, with four players attempting between four and seven shots from the field and each of those four players (Napier, Kromah, Ryan Boatright and Niels Giffey) scoring at least six points. UConn has a clear star in Napier and that’s perfectly fine, but in order for the Huskies to be at their best they need to make sure the other scoring options get the ball in advantageous positions as well.
At this point in the season it’s clear that UConn will be a tournament team, and they’ll be better when Daniels returns to full strength. Having one less scoring option impacted UConn in the second half on Thursday night, leaving them with one less player to trust when it came to taking the shots. Cincinnati’s a very good defensive team, and their ability to choke the life out of teams on that end of the floor has resulted in a 15-game win streak.
But to be fair UConn helped them out some on Thursday with their second-half execution, and that’s something the Huskies can’t afford to do as the season moves closer to March.