HOUSTON – Happy New Year, everyone. Let’s wrap up UConn’s loss to the Cougars with some notes, quotes, thoughts.
Hideous loss, and there is no sugar-coating it. The Huskies played badly, they knew it, they made no excuses. There are coaches who, even in these circumstances, would have talked about the comeback. Kevin Ollie didn’t to that, nor did he cry about the sketchy foul on Tyler Olander than proved decisive. He was straight up, as were the players who spoke.
“We played terrible,” Ryan Boatright said. “They beat us in every category of the game. The only reason we came back was because we were more talented. We’ve got to get better.”
That says it all … just about. Let’s add that anyone who expected a breeze through the American Athletic Conference can now think again. This conference is filled with programs out of C-USA that are hungry to prove they belong on the big stage, and when a team like UConn comes into their building it’s going to be a big deal to them. So it had better be a big deal to UConn, too. We were joking about the crowd, but Houston had over 4,000 – some 1,100 more than they’d been averaging – and the crowd made its presence heard.
SMU, which is a much better team than Houston, has sold out its 7,000-seat arena, which is re-opening with UConn on Saturday. UConn better be ready, and stay ready in this league. It’s not going to be Memphis and Lousville.
I’ll call this the worst loss of the Ollie era, and he was as angry as we’ve seen him, equaling the game at Pittsburgh last Janurary. During the game he broke a clipboatd, and after the game laid it out pretty well. Some highlights:
“Once again we got down by a big margin. We have to play, We weren’t ready to play and that’s my fault. I’ll try to find some tough guys, but what we’re showing now, we get down and that when we start playing. We play in spurts, and I keep telling you all, we can’t play in spurts because we’re not good enough. They get 36 points from their bench, which really hurt us. They came in and beat us in every area. Coach [James] Dickey has his team ready to play. We knew that. I was telling the guys, we’re going to get everybody’s best punch. They have to understand that. They didn’t understand that and then they got down and then we tried to start playing. That’s our story.
We have to pull ourselves out of this pit right now and try to win one at SMU.
I told them [at halftime] you have to play with heart. Our best player has to set the tone, he has to come out and play, he can’t have two points. DeAndre Daniels has to come and play. Our starters have to play, that’s why I changed the starting lineup. We have to figure out something. That’s my job as a head coach, to figure it out.
They don’t play any centers. They play a four man as a three, they have small, quick guards. It’s not about who wasn’t playing. These guys got an opportunity. I’ve been a player, when I get an opportunity I’m going to take it, show the coach what I can do. It wasn’t their speed, we’re just as fast as them. It was our lack of intensity on defense. If you’re lax, not aggressive in taking your first three steps back, you’re hanging your head, worried about a turnover, then any team can go past you. The biggest team in America can run past you.”
“You can’t wait for someone to punch you. You’ve got to play perfect basketball when you get down 21. Perfect. They have to miss all their shots, you have to make all your shots. You’ve got to have ‘Bazz score 25 in the second half. That’s not what I envision for this team. It’s not. We’ve got to figure something out, do some soul searching.
I want [Napier] to go to the basket. I know he got the last one blocked, but I’d rather take that and have an opportunity for an offensive rebound. The kid was huge for us in this game, he was hot. At the end, take it to the basket.”
From Shabazz Napier:
“I didn’t bring my energy and it starts with myself. I’m one of the captains, one of the veterans. I didn’t bring it. I have no clue why … I wasn’t playing up to my capabilities.
My first half performance – it starts with me,. If I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do, it goes down the drain real fast. I didn’t do what I was supposed to do. I let it slip out of my hand.
We weren’t able to rebound and get the stops we needed at the end. We just played bad, and it had everything to do with me. My team needed me in the first half and the way I played, I would expect us to lose.
[Ollie] is upset, and I don’t blame him. It starts with me. If I don’t show my toughness … Everybody on my team is tough, I’d take these guys any day. It starts with me and I didn’t start the game off the right way.”
Here is our main game story for the Thursday Courant.
When a game is this late, there isn’t time to do a separate postgame notebook – we scramble to do something before the game that has to stand up. My pregame chat with the great Elvin Hayes, who said he was looking for an upset, by the way, sufficed. Here is that, along with some notes.
Neither Omar Calhoun, Phil Nolan nor Amida Brimah played but a few minutes in this game. UConn had no low-post presence – lots of work to do in that area, and it may mean investing minutes to develop Brimah or Kentan Facey. We’ll see. Here is your box score.
Here is our picture gallery from the game. I’ll check in with some more from Dallas tomorrow.