ORLANDO, Fla. - After having just put the wraps on a second straight clunker of a season, Kevin Ollie was asked if he expects to return next season as UConn men’s basketball coach.
Ollie didn’t hesitate in responding, nor did he elaborate.
“Yes,” Ollie said, providing a one-word answer after the Huskies’ 80-73 loss to SMU in the opening round of the American Athletic Conference tournament.
UConn finished with a record of 14-18, giving it back-to-back losing campaigns for the first time since the 1985-86 and 1986-87 seasons. The Huskies also lost eight games by 20 points or more, by far the most blowout losses the program has absorbed in one season.
Some have called for Ollie’s removal as head coach, though he seems to have the backing of many of his players.
“It comes down to us. It comes down to the players on the court. All this extra stuff about everything else, I think it comes down to us. We didn’t execute,” UConn sophomore guard Christian Vital said.
For his part, Ollie knows he and the Huskies must do better if they are to match the standards both he and his fans have set for the program.
“I’m going to assess everything I’ve done as a coach and see how I can get better,” Ollie said. “CV says it’s about the players, but it’s about the coaching staff, too. How can I get these guys to play better and play together? I can go down the list but we don’t want to be here. We don’t want to be 14-18. That’s unacceptable.”
Ollie is 127-79 in six seasons as UConn’s head coach. An alum and former standout guard at UConn, he guided the Huskies to the 2014 national title.
Ollie has three years remaining on his current contract, and the school owes him approximately $10 million on that deal.
UConn athletic director David Benedict said after Thursday’s game that he didn’t want to answer “hypothetical questions” about Ollie’s future.
“I’m not going to make specific comments,” Benedict said. “I’ve got to sit down and have time to reflect.”
Benedict said last week that he will meet with Ollie, as well as each player individually, soon after the season ends to make a formal evaluation of the coach’s performance.
As for the roster Ollie may return with, UConn already knows it will lose Terry Larrier a year earlier than planned. But Jalen Adams, the team’s leading scorer, said again on Thursday that he plans to return for his senior season.
“Yeah, I plan on coming back next year,” Adams said.
Adams, who sprained his left thumb late in the Huskies’ regular season finale against Houston, had the appendage heavily taped for Thursday’s game.
Although he says it wasn’t a major factor in his play, Adams finished with six points on 3-of-11 shooting. He also had six rebounds, five assists and five turnovers in his now usual 40 minutes of action.
“Not too much,” Adams said when asked how much the thumb impacted his game. “I don’t know, it didn’t hurt me too much once I kind of got flowing.”
His coach gave Adams credit for playing and also refused to use the injury as an excuse.
“It was a tough situation for him but he’s a warrior. He’s fought for us the whole year,” Ollie said.
“At the end of the day he was making the right plays. He was making passes, he was trying to get everybody involved,” Ollie added.
Of all the omens that signaled the Huskies might have a tough time winning on Thursday, none was clearer than the early dominance of SMU center Akoy Agau.
A 6-foot-8 senior, Agau had scored in double figures only twice this season and was averaging 4.2 points per game. But he somehow made 7-of-8 from the field and 7-of-8 from the free throw line Thursday against the Huskies to net a career-high 21 points.
“You can’t do that,” Ollie said. “Not saying he’s a bad player but he got 21 points in 24 minutes.”
Agau, who began his college career at Louisville and also played at Georgetown, often jokes that he’s been around the block a time or two.
“I just tried to play as hard as I can. Put a headband on, took the knee brace off, tried to shave about 10 years off,” the 23-year-old Agau said with a laugh.