SUNDAY, MARCH 9: It’s less than a day since the regular season finale for the UConn men’s basketball team and I am still hard pressed to describe what took place yesterday at the House of Horrors known as the KFC Yum!Center in Louisville. The defending national champion Louisville Cardinals blasted UConn 81-48 and the score might not be a true indicator of just how bad it was.
I had thought going in this might be a near impossible game for UConn to win. Louisville had a chance to win the conference championship and it was their Senior Day. I underestimated just how emotional the day would be. The good folks of the ‘Ville take their college basketball seriously and love their Cardinals. It was “Wear Red for the Seniors Day” and it looked like all 22,782 on hand wore red to support their seniors, Very, very impressive.
The Cardinals then channeled the emotion of the Senior Day ceremonies into the game. They never let UConn up for air from the opening tip to the final buzzer. They harassed Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright into a combined 4-24 shooting including 1-14 from behind the three point arc. They pressured Napier into six turnovers and played him very physically. Rick Pitino’s strategy was to cut the head off the dragon and make the body wilt. Mission accomplished.
For the second time this season, UConn had no answers for Montrezl Harrell who had 20 points, 11 rebounds and had his way inside. Harrell personally was responsible for getting UConn’s three big men to commit 12 personal fouls. What had to be even more frustrating for the Huskies was the 13 rebounds by Stephan Van Treese who simply outhustled the Huskies.
Toss in a season worst 29.4% shooting from the floor, an almost inconceivable 34 points allowed off turnovers and getting outscored 15-0 on the fast break and you have the formula for a blowout.
Now the big question is how do the Huskies respond. Do they get angry,show resolve to return to their winning ways and come out fighting mad against Memphis, at Memphis in the AAC quarterfinals on Thursday. Or was the game just a pre cursor of whats to come in the post season. This is clearly the biggest coaching challenge faced by Kevin Ollie in his brief head coaching career.
So now it is on to the first AAC men’s tournament. The last thing you wanted to be Memphis opponent in the quarterfinals. Yes,UConn did beat the Tigers twice this season and have already won at the Fed Ex Forum. But beating a team three times in one season isn’t easy (unless you’re the UConn women but that’s another story for another time), and beating them twice in their building will be tough. It will be a real road test for the Huskies. But not one they can’t pass.
With the regular season over, here are my opinions on AAC post season awards.
Player of the Year- Shabazz Napier and Sean Kilpatrick. Yes, it’s a cop out. No player is more valuable to his team then Shabazz but Kilpatrick has been terrific as well.They both deserve the honor.
Defensive Player of the Year- Justin Jackson of Cincinnati. He is also a candidate for most improved but Jackson has been dominant in the middle for the Bearcats.
Most Improved Player- Montrezl Harrell. The most dominant big man in the league.
Coach of the Year- Larry Brown SMU. The Hall of Famer has resurrected the Mustangs.
Our last Kevin Ollie Coaches show for this season will be Monday night at Rooftop 120 from 6 to 6:30 prior to the women in the Big East Championship Game.