UConn's roller coaster of a season hits another drop
STORRS – Just when it appeared UConn would finally dominate a good team, the inconsistent play that has plagued this team all season reared its ugly head.
And, suddenly, just when it looked like UConn was a pretty safe bet for the NCAA Tournament, its season is now in peril.
Up nine and cruising against Houston Sunday, the Huskies squandered all but one point of their lead by halftime. The Cougars then ran UConn off the Gampel Pavilion floor in the second half, securing a 75-68 win that leaves the Huskies scrambling with two regular season games and the AAC Tournament left before Selection Sunday.
While losing to a 20-win team is not surprising, the cause of the defeat was for the Huskies (20-9, 10-6 AAC). They allowed Houston to shoot 60 percent in the second half, 51.9 percent for the game, and let the Cougars run at will, allowing 18 fast-break points. UConn’s defense has been its strong point this season (opponents entered shooting only 37 percent), but on this afternoon, it looked lost, as on multiple occasions players let Houston coast to the basket or shoot jumpers with no resistance.
UConn coach Kevin Ollie was quite agitated to say the least.
“I don't know where our defense went, it was all transition,” Ollie said. “It was just a tough loss. Hopefully, our guys feel this. We had a great crowd here (9,667) and I'm just disappointed for them, to come out and fill Gampel the way they did and for us to have a game like this. We couldn't keep anybody in front of us, we couldn't get back in transition and we didn't play with any heart, and that's the summary of the game.
“You can’t give up 18 points on the fast-break,” Ollie continued. "We get up three and we give a guy a run. I mean, he literally takes the ball out of bounds, gets the outlet and makes a layup. You can’t play like that. You shouldn’t put a UConn jersey on if you’re playing like that.”
Damyean Dotson tore the Huskies apart, scoring 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting (four three-pointers) with 14 rebounds. Plus, his three with 1:08 gave Houston a six-point lead that sent most of the crowd streaming to the exits like students during a fire drill. It was arguably the best overall performance by an individual opponent against UConn this season. Devonta Pollard also gave the Huskies problems, scoring 17, and Ronnie Johnson had 10 points and seven assists.
“We had a bad defensive game, a horrible defensive game," said Daniel Hamilton, who led UConn with 20 points and seven rebounds, but struggled immensely on defense. “Dotson was getting a lot of easy, pin-down jumpers and I should’ve adjusted.”
Sterling Gibbs and Rodney Purvis each had rough games, combining to shoot 4-of-14. Shonn Miller, the Huskies’ most steady player this season, only took six shots and finished with nine points.
Those players have a lot of experience, but it hasn’t translated to leadership, a trait Ollie is pleading for.
“It comes down to toughness,” Ollie said. “And the lack of effort that we showed out there was very disappointing, but it has been like that the whole year. Get up high, go down low. It's a lack of focus and a lack of leadership.”
Life is only going to get tougher for the Huskies when they travel to SMU Thursday. Not only will the first place Mustangs be out for revenge after their loss in Hartford two weeks earlier, but it’s their Senior Night, which takes on even more meaning for them since the team is banned from postseason play.
“It’s pressure all the time.” Ollie said. “To kind of cement ourselves in the NCAA tournament, it would’ve been a great victory for us to keep the momentum going down to SMU. You just let it slip through your fingers and that’s very, very hard to swallow. We did not play the right way at all. It’s very disappointing, I’m disappointed for our fans to see that. It’s unacceptable."
Ollie made sure to emphasize that his players need to take accountability.
“I can’t dribble. I can’t shoot. My assistants can’t do that.”
Quite simply, the Huskies’ ability to master those simple fundamentals and combine them with strong defense will ultimately determine their postseason fate. Time is ticking and a great opportunity was lost on Sunday.