JOE D’S NOTEBOOK January 5, 2014

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Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham/ Getty Images Sport

Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham/ Getty Images Sport

SUNDAY, 1-5-14: There is no way, or reason, to sugarcoat what happened to the UConn men on Saturday in Dallas. They were beaten in every way by SMU and the 74-65 final score is indicative of just how much better the Mustangs were than the Huskies.

Going into the game, everyone, myself included, expected UConn to bounce back from Tuesday’s shocking loss at Houston. And everyone, myself included, knew that Saturday would be a tougher game. The Mustangs were a better team than the Cougars and they would be geeked up by a sellout crowd in their first game back at their renovated on campus facility, the Moody Coliseum. But I expected UConn to be up to the challenge. Other than a couple of players, they weren’t.

Once again, UConn was slow out of the blocks, getting one field goal in the first six minutes. But unlike Tuesday night, they were in the game, in fact they led by five at 18-13 with 8:18 to go in the half. But SMU didn’t wilt and kept playing tough, aggressive basketball. Then in the second half, the Mustangs took charge with a 13-3 run that turned a 41-40 deficit into a 53-44 lead with seven minutes to play.UConn never got closer than seven points after that.

For the second straight game, we saw players that UConn fans and media are unfamiliar with show their abilities. 5’9 Nic Moore was the best player on the floor and 6’4 Nick Russell was the second best. Russell was one of several big guards who took turns making Shabazz Napier’s life miserable, a strategy we are bound to see for the rest of the season. Moore came in as one of the conference’s best shooters and lived up to his advance billing. And the rest of the Mustangs worked hard, harder than UConn.

Lasan Kromah was the Huskies best player and Kevin Ollie showed his faith in the grad student by playing him for the entire second half, the only UConn player to do that. It’s not just intangibles that make Kromah so good, it’s his work ethic and his instincts.He is too valuable coming off the bench to insert in the starting lineup right now. Ryan Boatright, while not as good as Tuesday night, didn’t play poorly. But the rest of the Huskies struggled. SMU won the battle for every loose ball, won the battle of the boards by eight, including getting 15 offensive rebounds to 19 defensive rebounds for UConn, a ratio that usually translates into disaster.

Shabazz Napier was inefficient for the whole 40 minutes, not just the first 20 on Tuesday night and along with DeAndre Daniels combined to shoot 5-19 from the floor.UConn can’t win with them shooting like that. You can forgive Napier for having an off game but Daniels is now 12-35 in his last four games, making just three field goals in each of the four. UConn needs him to break out of his slump in a hurry.

It looked to me like the Huskies played tentatively on Saturday, afraid to make a mistake. Against teams trying to knock off a proven winner in college basketball, that’s a tough way to win and it’s imperative they go back to playing stress free.

It’s the first time since the 89-90 season that UConn has opened conference play 0-2. Was it difficult to open the conference season with a week on the road in an unfamiliar place. Sure. Is it an excuse for their performance. Absolutely not.Teams with his aspirations have to be ready to handle challenges, be that at home or on the road and UConn wasn’t ready for that this week.

But as the ’90 team and countless teams before and after them have shown, 0-2 isn’t a death sentence for failure. The Huskies still have too many good players to think that they won’t be a factor for the rest of the season.But, that turnaround has to start on Wednesday against a very very good Harvard team.

One word on the week in the Lone Star State.It’s sad how little interest there is in college basketball in Houston. 1800 people showed up on Tuesday night and the only newspaper in town treated it as an afterthought. There is more interest in Dallas and Moody Coliseum is a terrific venue. And with Larry Brown at the helm, I guarantee interest in the Mustangs continues to be much greater than in the Cougars.

We will have another edition of the Kevin Ollie Show from Rooftop 120 in Glastonbury on Monday night at 6. Former Husky great and Board of Trustee member Donny Marshall will join us on the telephone. I hope you can be with us.

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