Vital scores 18 to lead UConn to a 62-53 win over UCF
STORRS, Conn. (AP) — UConn showed one of the nation’s best defensive teams that the Huskies can also guard the basket.
Christian Vital scored 18 points to lead UConn to a 62-53 win over UCF on Wednesday night.
Terry Larrier and Jalen Adams each added 13 points for Connecticut (9-7, 2-2 American), which won its second straight after a four-game losing streak.
“I think we’re honestly starting to figure this thing out,” said Vital.
Ceasar DeJesus led UCF (12-5, 3-2) with 13 points. Terrell Allen had 12 and Tacko Fall finished with 11 points.
The Knights came in allowing just 54.7 points per game and were coming off a 60-39 win over Temple.
But UConn never trailed and held UCF to under 37 percent shooting.
“I thought our defensive effort was our best this whole season,” said UConn coach Kevin Ollie.
The Huskies used an 8-0 run to lead by nine at halftime, capped by a 3-pointer from Larrier at the first half buzzer. It was 35-21 at after Vital opened the second half with a steal and layup followed by a 3-pointer.
UCF responded with a 15-2 run, cutting the lead to 37-36 on Allen’s 3-point shot from the top of the key.
But the Knights could not get over the hump.
“We were right there a few times,” said UCF coach Johnny Dawkins. “But every time we were right there, someone stepped up and made a big play. That’s what really talented players do and they have really good guards. I think Jalen Adams stepped up a few times in those situations and made big plays.”
Adams found Isaiah Whaley on the baseline for a dunk that made it 50-44 and then hit a fall-away jumper to stretch the lead back to 10 at 54-44. That shot put Adams over the 1,000-points for his career, becoming the 50th Husky to reach that plateau.
Neither team shot well. UConn made 43 percent of their attempts from the floor. But the Huskies went 20 of 21 from the free throw line.
“Maybe a couple of games ago we might have given the lead away,” said Adams. “But I think it just shows how mature the team is growing.”
UCF: Guard B.J. Taylor missed his 16th straight game. The Knights leading scorer a year ago (17.4 points per game) fractured a bone in his left foot in the season-opener. He has returned to practice and Dawkins said he’s just waiting to get the all-clear from the medical staff.
“He’s day-to-day right now, but he’s definitely getting better. He’s moving better.”
UConn: The Huskies have won 11 of 12 meetings with the Knights, and are 8-0 against UCF as members of the American Athletic Conference.
A BIT CHIPPY
There was some pushing between the teams in warmups before the game, a flagrant foul by Dayon Griffin on Vital that led to a confrontation during the game, and some more pushing between those two in the handshake line after the game.
Vital called it “fake energy” from UCF, trying to get UConn out of its game.
Dawkins said he expects his team to be a “class program” and avoid a lot of talking on the court.
“We just want to play basketball,” he said. “I made that very clear from the perspective of their coach what I tolerate and don’t tolerate.”
After using 12 different starting lineups this season, Kevin Ollie went with the same starting five (Adams, Vital, Larrier, Whaley and Josh Carlton) for a third consecutive game.
UCF: The Knights have almost a week off, before hosting No. 14 Cincinnati next Tuesday night.
UConn: The Huskies begin a two-game road trip at Tulane on Saturday then head to Memphis next Tuesday.