By SAM DONNELLY
After dominating Division III Lyndon State last week, the Wildcats ran into UConn on Tuesday. Needless to say, the Division I powerhouse was a completely different beast.
UNH suffered its first defeat of the season with an 85-66 loss at the Huskies’ hands. Sophomore Tanner Leissner led the Wildcats with 21 points and four rebounds, while freshman Pat McNamara chipped in with 14 points, including four three-pointers. UConn guard Sterling Gibbs scored a game-high 21 points and Daniel Hamilton had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Despite the loss, head coach Bill Herrion saw plenty of good things from his team.
“I was encouraged because our kids didn’t play scared,” Herrion said. “They had no fear and just went out and played. I thought we ran our offense decently and only turned the ball over five times.”
The Wildcats stayed with the Huskies early, thanks in part to a 2-3 defensive zone that Herrion and his staff decided to insert. In the first game against UMaine, UConn shot just 29 percent from beyond the arc. On the flip side they scored 54 points in the paint. Herrion hoped the zone would take the inside shots away, and it did. The Wildcats limited UConn to just 28 points in the paint, but what seemed to be the Huskies’ weakness last week was their strength on Tuesday night.
“We had to play the zone because of our lack of depth,” Herrion said. “We couldn’t have our big guys get in foul trouble because we would have no shot. We aren’t a zone team and it kills me we had to play it, but I thought we weren’t bad in our zone, but the [UConn 3-pointers] really, really hurt us.”
The Huskies may have only shot 29 percent from beyond the arc in their first game, but it was a different story against the Wildcats. UConn made 13 three-pointers and shot 48 percent from the perimeter through the game. Gibbs and Rodney Purvis both knocked down five each.
At the end of the first half the score was 39-29 in favor of UConn. The Wildcats zone had kept them in the game, and the Huskies’ big man, 7-footer Amida Brimah, was in foul trouble. Fouls limited him to just five minutes played in the first half.
But early in the second half things started to get away from the ‘Cats. UConn opened the half on a 12-2 run that put the game out of reach. UNH never got back to within single digits and the Huskies were able to win 85-66.
The game would have been decided by a much wider margin if McNamara hadn’t knocked down four 3-pointers in the second half, two of which forced timeout calls from UConn coach Kevin Ollie.
“Pat McNamara can really, really shoot the basketball,” Herrion said. “He’s making [3-pointers] consistently and really helping us.”
The Wildcats don’t really have time to rest up. They’re on the road again for a Friday night matchup with Holy Cross. After a light walk-through on Wednesday, UNH will only have one practice before playing again.
“It is going to be a very tough game,” Herrion said. “Any game on the road in Division I is tough. I’m a little concerned with our quick turnaround and lack of preparation time, but it is what it is.”
The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on the radio on WPKX-AM 930 in Rochester and WGIR-AM 610 in Manchester or online at www. UNHWildcats.com/watch.