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STORRS - Alterique Gilbert played an excellent game Wednesday under difficult circumstances. Gilbert’s grandmother, Linda Epps, died Tuesday.
“As a staff, we wanted to put him on a plane (Wednesday),” UConn coach Dan Hurley said.
But Gilbert decided to stay in Connecticut and play. He finished with 11 points and seven assists in 34 minutes to help UConn beat Tulane 67-61 Wednesday night.
“I just figured it would be something she’d want me to do,” Gilbert said. “And I felt good. I didn’t feel like I couldn’t play. I think it helped me free my mind for a few hours, too.”
Hurley was impressed with many aspects of Gilbert’s performance against Tulane, not least of all his “heart.”
“For him to be able to, with the way the season has gone, to compartmentalize and have the courage to get out on the court and lead that way, that’s the type of heart we get to see as coaches and players with him every day,” Hurley said.
Gilbert said he would likely be returning home to the Atlanta area Thursday for his grandmother’s funeral.
HEAD-BUTT FOR BOUK
Hurley is liable to reward his players’ hustle and effort in a variety of ways during games, and the coach came up with a new one Wednesday.
After guard James Bouknight came flying over the UConn bench in an effort to save a loose ball with four minutes to play in the game, Hurley was thrilled.
Bouknight spilled over the chairs and a few teammates but emerged unharmed from the tumble seemingly unharmed. That is until his coach delivered something of a head butt in celebration of the effort.
Hurley was asked after the game if he did indeed head butt his freshman.
“Yes, I did,” Hurley said proudly.
The coach then brought his hand up to his head with a smile.
“And I did check to see if I was like in the WWE, if I was like Ric Flair and I was bleeding from my forehead,” Hurley said.
Bouknight finished with seven points and four rebounds on Wednesday. He had two big dunks that excited the crowd, as did his efforts for loose balls, but he also had a few defensive lapses that Hurley didn’t enjoy.
“In the first half we got beat on that top-of-the-key catch flare play. Al was guarding (Nic) Thomas and we got beat on that,” Hurley said. “So coming out of the time out, we’re up eight or nine, last thing we said into the guys in the time out was ‘Watch Thomas on the flare.’
“And James found the bottom of the screen,” Hurley said in exasperation.
As much as he wants Bouknight to improve on defense, Hurley readily admits the young guard has limitless potential.
“James is going to be a tremendous player. Talent just oozes out of him,” Hurley said.
Christian Vital’s 14 points Wednesday moved him past Emeka Okafor (2001-04) and into 22nd place on UConn’s all-time scoring list. Vital now has 1,431 points in his career, just one point behind Rashad Anderson (2002-06) at No. 21. … UConn is now 9-0 when leading at the half. … UConn is 8-1 when outrebounding its opponent. … UConn had lost five straight conference home openers before snapping that streak Wednesday. … UConn has used the same starting lineup in all 15 of its games this season.