By Joe D'Ambrosio

1-1-14, DALLAS: Calendar year 2013 got off to a rough start for the UConn Men’s basketball team but it was nothing compared to the way it ended. 364 days after the heartbreaking overtime loss at Marquette, the Huskies were stunned by Houston 75-71.

The first 20 minutes were perhaps the worst 20 minutes for a team in the Kevin Ollie era. Houston shot the lights out, shooting 59 percent from the floor and 62% from 3 point range. You expected TaShawn Thomas to get his points, he was as good as advertised. But LeRon Barnes had made 2 three pointers all season going into Tuesday night, he made two in the first four minutes. All the Cougars were clicking on all cylinders. And UConn, well the Huskies looked like they had forgotten all the good things they did in the first 12 games of the season. No movement on offense, no passion on defense, just an abysmal 20 minutes. The 21 point first half deficit was the largest for a UConn team since the Iowa State nightmare in the 2012 NCAA tournament.

But the tables turned in the second half, right from the get-go. Shabazz Napier, who didn’t score a field goal in the first half,got the first two after intermission and Ryan Boatright, who was the best Husky on Tuesday also got two in a 10-3 run to start the half. UConn needed just seven minutes to erase the 18 point halftime deficit and tie the game. But to Houston’s credit, the Cougars didn’t roll over once UConn came back and kept pace. Eventually, like at the start, it was Houston that dominated the end of the game, scoring the final seven points for the win. Thomas hit the two free throws to break the 71 all tie, albeit on a shaky call against Tyler Olander, and then blocked Napier’s driving attempt to tie the game.

Kevin Ollie was furious at his team during the game, at one point smashing a clipboard in vintage Joe Morrone fashion.And afterward, the coach didn’t mince any words about his teams performance. And Ollie shortened the bench considerably in the second half. Six players played the entire half with the exception of Omar Calhoun,who played for a grand total of 29 seconds in the half. After appearing to come out of his eight game slump against Eastern Washington, the sophomore retreated to his previous ways. Calhoun’s continued struggles have been offset by the play of Niels Giffey and Lasan Kromah but UConn needs him to contribute at both ends of the floor to be as good a team as they want to be. Amida Brimah played the first four and a half minutes and wan never seen from again. His inexperience in playing post defense has become painfully obvious in the past four games. Phil Nolan was under the weather and really couldn’t contribute. The best Husky big man was Olander, who fought hard in his 16 minutes and made things tougher for Thomas.

I thought Boatright was the best UConn player, tying his career high with 9 assists and using terrific judgement in taking the ball inside. After the opening half, Napier was Napier scoring 25 points after intermission. Shabazz took the blame for the first half struggles of the team, saying he has to come out more aggressive. That will certainly be the case on Saturday at SMU which will have a sellout crowd of 7,000 at their first game in their renovated Moody Coliseum.

So now, twice in the last four games, UConn has lost. What does it mean? Good question. I don’t think they are anywhere near as bad as they were in the first 20 minutes last night but there has to be some concern over their inability to sustain 40 minutes of performance. It’s been an issue all season long and Ollie addressed the issue again last night.

Credit to Houston for playing hard last night and playing up to the competition. But aside from that, the interest in basketball there is laughable. The official attendance was listed at 4,035 ( wink wink . Maybe there were that many arms, legs and eyeballs in the Hofheinz Pavilion but not fans. And the only newspaper in town , the Houston Chronicleput today’s game story on page C 15 after not mentioning word one about the game on Tuesday. I know the Texans are the big story in town but when there is more mention of ex Husky tight end Ryan Griffin in the paper than any basketball player, something is wrong.

Saturday’s pre game time is 1:30 and due to the conflict, the women’s game that day will be heard on our sister station 96-5 TIC FM. I hope your New Year has gotten off to a good start! For the Huskies, the hope is it gets better…and it will.


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