SUNDAY JAN 19- 90 seconds into the second half, Gampel Pavilion might have been as loud as it has been in its 24 year history. Shabazz Napier had drained a three to tie UConn and Louisville at 34 and the energized sellout crowd was electric. It was all down hill from there for the Huskies.
Louisville went on an ensuing 18-4 run to break the game wide open and eventually the Cardinals came away with a well deserved 76-64 win to drop UConn back under 500 in conference play.
The defending national champs dominated the inside, outrebounding UConn 45-30, the worst rebounding deficit that the Huskies have endured this season. And The ‘Ville outscored UConn 40-20. Led by Montrezl Harrell, Louisville was too rugged, too tough, too talented for the Huskies inside. The 6’7 Harrell who has a wingspan that makes him to play like a 7 footer, was superb. 18 points and 13 rebounds don’t fully explain just how dominant he was. Harrell scored from inside, he stepped outside and scored and was the best player on the floor. UConn doesn’t have anyone like him and on Saturday, had no one who could stop him.
Russ Smith, Luke Hancock and the rest of the Cards were good, not great, but executed their game plan to perfection. Smith and Terry Rozier pushed the ball and made UConn converge on them, leaving Harrell and others open inside.The Louisville 2-3 zone, especially in the first half, forced UConn to get into its offense with too little time on the shot clock on too many occasions. The Huskies have played much better offensively against zone defenses for most of the season. Not Saturday.
Napier tried to will the Huskies to victory but on this night, didn’t get enough help. ‘Bazz scored a career high 30, went to the line a career high 13 times, but had only one assist. His teammates shot just 12-39 from the floor. Ryan Boatright, playing with a heavy heart, was extremely effective in the final 10 minutes when he found seams in the zone and took the ball inside. But the rest of the Huskies weren’t consistent enough offensively, De Andre Daniels hit the Huskies first shot of the game and then never made another shot, missing the final eight that he took. UConn can’t win big games without Daniels playing well. He did not on Saturday.
As far as the controversial no call that resulted in the ejection of Kevin Ollie with 13:02 to play. it’s hard to believe Wayne Blackshear didn’t commit a foul when he landed on Niels Giffey. Referee Mike Stuart flat out missed the call and then didn’t walk away when Ollie raced down the baseline to argue. That didn’t lose the game for UConn, not by a long shot. But it was a key part in that 18-4 game changing run.
If a week ago, I had said UConn would split the two games with Memphis and Louisville, many would have signed up for that. But after the brilliant second half against the Tigers, a split just doesn’t seem so satisfying.
Kudos to the crowd,which was in its seats early and was vociferous for much of the night, Especially the students, who as usual were on top of their game. If you need to see the difference between playing college basketball on campus or in large impersonal civic arenas, all you have to do is look at the atmosphere last night.
The Huskies are back at it in the XL Center Tuesday night against Temple, who the Huskies haven’t played since 1965. Pre game is 6:30. I hope you can join us.