After generating national buzz for a stellar start to American Athletic Conference play, the University of Tulsa lost momentum with Thursday night’s performance against UConn.
In addition to ending a six-game win streak and dropping the Hurricane out of first place in the American, the 72-56 defeat was a dose of reality: The second half of the conference race would not be easy.
Although TU has beaten league contenders like Houston, Wichita State and Memphis, teams in the lower half of the standings bring upset potential. UConn, despite being consistently competitive, entered one game above .500 on the season.
On the back nine of the league schedule, the Hurricane (15-7, 7-2) has six games against teams with a losing American record, starting with a visit to UCF (12-10, 3-7) on Sunday afternoon that could result in a fourth consecutive road win.
“It’s just the halfway point,” TU coach Frank Haith said after Thursday’s loss. “I think we’ve got a lot of basketball left to go.
“We’ve got nine more of these bad boys. We’ve got to get back in (the gym) and get after it. You can’t let one loss turn into two losses because we overreact a little bit.”
The Huskies pulling away down the stretch coincided with an injury to leading scorer and rebounder Brandon Rachal, who left in the second half with a left ankle sprain. He made the trip to Orlando, Florida, and is expected to be a game-day decision.
Regardless of Rachal’s availability, TU will likely need to have a better shooting outing than what it has delivered in its two conference losses. Against Cincinnati and UConn, the Hurricane was outscored 60-3 on 3-pointers.
In each of TU’s last five losses, the opponent has made at least 10 3-pointers, combining to shoot 38.1% from long range. UConn shot 45.5% on 3s, a season high for a Hurricane opponent.
“We definitely didn’t play like we’ve been playing, but that’s something we have to fix before the next game and I’m very confident we will,” Martins Igbanu said Thursday. “When we win, we enjoy it for the night and next day come back ready to work.
“Same thing (after a defeat): We reflect on the loss tonight and come back ready to work. Coach is going to show us film and show us what we need to do.”