CINCINNATI >> The opportunity was there, right there in front of them, like a wide-open layup.

And, like so many of the layups UConn attempted had on Saturday afternoon, the Huskies missed.

No one expected the latest of UConn’south biannual grudge matches with Cincinnati to exist easy, of grade. Not after an emotional win less than 48 hours earlier at abode over a ranked squad. Not going upwardly against a notoriously tough defensive team that’southward teetering on the NCAA tournament chimera.

And yet, had the Huskies hit a few more than layups, grabbed a few more rebounds or just played a bit tougher, they might have left the Queen City with ii huge wins in three days in their back pocket and a ticket to the Large Dance almost all but bodacious.

Instead, Cincinnati completed a regular-flavour sweep of the Huskies with a 65-lx win before a sellout at Fifth Tertiary Arena.

The Huskies never led. They cruel backside 8-0 early, had just six points midway through the first half and trailed past 14 with viii ane/2 minutes left.

They battled back, led by freshman Jalen Adams (who at one point scored 11 straight UConn points), and were inside iii afterward a Rodney Purvis iii-pointer from the corner with 4:01 remaining. They fell behind by eight again just were within four following Adams’ pretty driving transition layup with 90 seconds left.

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Merely UConn could never quite become over the hump. And at present, at 19-viii (9-5 AAC), the Huskies still have work to do to clear that hurdle of an NCAA bid. Very achievable work, mind yous. Merely work nonetheless.

“One time over again, the game came down to missed layups,” head coach Kevin Ollie rued. “I don’t know what to say. It’southward mental toughness on our part. We’ve got to go tougher. I counted 12 missed layups, I could be wrong. It could be higher than that.”

And the prime culprit for those missed layups was Purvis. It’s been a season-long issue for the inferior guard, who’s shown improvement equally a iii-point shooter just has been maddeningly ineffective on drives to the hole (not to mention gratuitous throws).

In a moment of impressive artlessness, Purvis took accountability for the loss.

“That’southward been the story all season,” he said. “I’ve got to focus and finish layups, considering it’s costing u.s. games.”

Certainly, there were other problems that plagued UConn on Sabbatum — issues that take reared their caput numerous other times this season. Cincinnati (20-viii, x-5) outrebounded the Huskies 40-30. A dozen of them were off the offensive glass, and several of those were huge down the stretch. None were bigger than Kevin Johnson’s offensive board after an Octavius Ellis missed free throw. The Bearcats weren’t able to add together to their six-point pb at the time, simply managed to eat precious seconds off the clock.

Adams eventually countered with his transition layup to brand information technology 58-54, just Sterling Gibbs fouled Troy Caupain in the backcourt, and Caupain knocked downward both free throws. Daniel Hamilton missed a 3-pointer, Purvis grabbed the rebound but couldn’t catechumen inside, and Cincy’southward Jacob Evans wound up drilling a 3-pointer with 39.5 seconds left and the shot clock winding down that pretty much settled the deal.

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“Nosotros got in the lane, but we were missing layups,” said Ollie. “Jalen got in the lane and he converted on layups. But a lot of people were getting correct to the rim and weren’t making layups. We didn’t get the whistle, it was seven-i on fouls (at one point). But when you lot’re not converting, those should exist and-1’south.”

Less than ii nights later the Huskies showed a whole lot of grit in their 68-62 win over No. 21 SMU in Hartford, Ollie was at a loss for why not enough of that grit was present on Saturday.

“I have no idea,” he stated. “It’s just mental toughness, focus. That’due south it. If I had (an respond), I’d have information technology occur a lot more than than what’due south been doing. Simply we’ve got to have ameliorate leadership, better toughness. That’south everybody from me to everyone down to the end of the bench.”

And remember Amida Brimah’s “breakout” performance against SMU (16 points, eight rebounds and just 2 fouls)? More foul problem on Saturday for the 7-footer, who was limited to 22 ineffective minutes, in which he managed just 2 points.

“Nosotros just didn’t have the mail service presence that we idea we had,” said Ollie. “We just got out-toughed today.”

And at present, some NCAA tournament perspective. UConn entered the game with an RPI of 36, and should withal be in that range by the time you lot read this. It owns nice wins over SMU, Texas and Michigan, and though its failed in chances confronting Cincinnati (twice), Maryland, Gonzaga and Syracuse, UConn doesn’t have any truly bad losses on its resume, either.

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The Huskies have four games left — at home against Houston and UCF, on the road confronting USF and SMU. Virtually the merely game they tin afford to lose would be at SMU. USF and UCF are a combined ix-19 in league play, and while Houston has surprised at nine-five in the AAC (19-7 overall), UConn beat the Cougars on the road final month and would figure to exist solid favorites at Gampel Pavilion on Thursday night.

Then, of course, comes the AAC tournament, where UConn could feasibly get another quality win or ii against, say, Temple, Tulsa, Cincinnati or Houston. Beat USF, UCF and Houston, then win a couple of games in the AAC tourney and the Huskies would finish 24-ix. That should certainly be enough to earn a berth in the Big Dance — even if AAC teams (SMU 2014, Temple 2015) annually seem to get jobbed by the tournament selection committee.

Win the AAC tourney, of course, and the Huskies get the automated bid. Stub their toe somewhere along the way other than at SMU, however, and suddenly UConn could be very nervous on Pick Sun.

A lot of those nerves could have been eased with a win on Sabbatum in the Queen Urban center, of grade. But, not different too many of their drives to the handbasket, the Huskies don’t always make things easy on themselves.