Gilbert fuels UConn men to blowout victory over Lafayette

Lafayette's Dylan Hastings, left, and UConn's Eric Cobb tangle as they vie for a rebound during Wednesday night's game at the XL Center in Hartford. The Huskies cruised to a 90-63 win. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Lafayette's Dylan Hastings, left, and UConn's Eric Cobb tangle as they vie for a rebound during Wednesday night's game at the XL Center in Hartford. The Huskies cruised to a 90-63 win. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Hartford — Alterique Gilbert just wants to create some fun for his UConn basketball teammates.

Thanks in part to Gilbert's impressive playmaking skills, the Huskies certainly enjoyed themselves on Wednesday.

Gilbert focused on finding his teammates, dishing out career-best 11 assists in a 90-63 rout of non-conference foe Lafayette before 6,928 fans at the XL Center. It was the fifth time this season that UConn has hit the 90-point mark, the most since the 2008-09 campaign.

"I was just trying to create more opportunities for my teammates," Gilbert said, "and I'm looking to pick up the pace for this team and create some fun."

The joy is returning to Gilbert's game after spending most of the last few years on the sideline due to shoulder problems. A McDonald's All-American out of Miller Grove High School in Lithonia, Ga., he's played only nine games since arriving in Storrs.

Coach Dan Hurley has preached patience to Gilbert, who's shown flashes of his electrifying talent but still searching for his shooting touch, sinking only 40 percent from the field this season.

"He's got to cut himself a big break," Hurley said. "He hasn't really played basketball in a couple of years. But he's eventually going to get back to the level of the guy that he was and be even better because he's more mature. It's going to take him time just to find the rhythm and get comfortable on that court."

After going 3-for-12 from the field in Sunday's painful four-point loss to Arizona, Gilbert focused on driving and dishing against the overmatched Leopards (2-6). He took only four shots, making one and scoring two points. He also had three steals.

Gilbert was brilliant with the basketball, helping to ignite his teammates. He finished with zero turnovers in 22 minutes.

"Al was great," Hurley said. "He was an incredible playmaker. He made guys look good offensively. ... Al was the difference for us."

Any letdown for UConn would have been understandable with Wednesday's non-conference game squeezed between two significant tests against heavyweight opponents.

The XL Center atmosphere was just the opposite of the Arizona game on Sunday when the noise reached jet takeoff levels at times. You could easily hear an animated and vocal Hurley on the sidelines on Wednesday.

The Huskies (7-2) showed some maturity by taking care of business, using a big push to open the second half to run away. A 16-point halftime lead quickly ballooned.

Gilbert, a redshirt sophomore guard, converted a steal into a layup for his only points. Then he capped off a fast-break with a nice pass to junior Christian Vital for a layup.

After a Lafayette timeout, Gilbert set up senior Jalen Adams for a wide-open three-pointer that he converted for a 52-31 edge.

"When he plays like that, it's hard to beat us," sophomore Tyler Polley said.

The scoring party kicked in from there and the Huskies cruised home for the fifth lopsided win of the season.

They passed around the scoring baton, with Adams (21 points) Polley (a career-high 16 points), Vital (14), sophomore Josh Carlton (11 points, seven rebounds) and freshman Brendan Adams (a career-best 11 points) all hitting double figures.

It was important for the Huskies to bounce back from Sunday's loss and play well before taking on No. 11 Florida State on Saturday in Newark, N.J. They shot 46 percent while limiting the Leopards to 37 percent and had only 10 turnovers.

"We just came off a bad loss, but we're winning for the most part," Gilbert said. "And we're a young team and we're learning. We're looking forward to Saturday."

It was a painful game for one Husky.

Graduate transfer Tarin Smith lost a tooth about midway through the first half. Smith remained in the game, but left the coaching staff with a dilemma when his tooth landed on the court.

"No one really understood the protocol there," Hurley said. "Are we supposed to go out and get it? But he's from Jersey; he's tough. He played for Bob (Hurley) Sr., so he didn't even notice it. He was ready to keep going."

g.keefe@theday.com

UConn's Jalen Adams (4) drives to the basket as Lafayette's Sean Good (13) defends the Huskies' 90-63 win on Wednesday night at the XL Center in Hartford. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
UConn's Jalen Adams (4) drives to the basket as Lafayette's Sean Good (13) defends the Huskies' 90-63 win on Wednesday night at the XL Center in Hartford. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

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