Horrid second half dooms Huskies
HARTFORD – The UConn men’s basketball team has played dangerously with fire all season.
From relying on late-game heroics – notably from Shabazz Napier – to blowing double-digit leads only to come back and still win, the 10th-ranked Huskies tempted fate throughout their 9-0 start.
They finally got burned on Wednesday against Stanford.
Up by 10 at intermission and 13 early in the second half, UConn blew the lead, but this time didn’t have the miracle shot or the crazy bounce go its way.
Napier missed three shots in the final minute and Omar Calhoun was unable to connect on a desperation three at the buzzer as the Huskies fell to Stanford, 53-51, before a (very) late night crowd of 11,140 at the XL Center.
While the loss is hardly the end of the world for UConn, there were some disturbing developments, especially in the second half.
First and foremost was its shooting, or lack thereof.
The Huskies shot 31.7 percent for the game, a horrific 16.1 percent (5-of-31) in the second half and worst of all, they missed all 12 of their three-point attempts during the final 20 minutes.
UConn only scored 13 points in the second half compared to Stanford’s 25.
DeAndre Daniels had a decent game with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting, but the rest of the UConn starters - Napier, Calhoun, Ryan Boatright and Phil Nolan - combined to shoot 8-of-35.
It was a recipe for disaster for the Huskies, who struggled to find clean looks near the hoop against the Cardinal zone.
“We had some open shots, and missed some ill-advised threes,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said. “It was a simple zone and they did a good job with their length and closing up the gaps. We never got into the four-hole, what we call the middle near the free throw line. We never got in and exposed that. It was all settle for jump shots and when you do that and they're not falling, you start to press."
Stanford (8-2) was led by guard Chasson Randle, whose jumper with 6:15 to go gave the Cardinal the lead for good at 50-49. He finished with a game-high 22 points and Dwight Powell added 15 rebounds.
“It was one of the best efforts I have ever seen in a half,” raved Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins. “We were very active and were locked in defensively for the entire possessions.”
The Huskies seemed on their way to a 10th straight win, especially after a Napier steal led to a lay-up from Lasan Kromah at the first half buzzer for a 38-28 advantage.
However, it was all downhill in epic fashion from there. The Huskies, entering the night with a sensational 47 percent shooting percentage from three, threw up brick after brick and never found any rhythm.
Still, they had several chances to steal an ugly win. Napier, though, missed two threes on one possession in the final minute, the second coming off a Niels Giffey rebound, and then missed another jumper with eight seconds left.
Josh Huestis missed the front end of the one-and-one and Napier grabbed the rebound and raced down the floor. Like most of the crowd, the Cardinal had visions of his buzzer-beater against Florida earlier this month. They sent two men right at him, forcing Napier to make a last second pass to Calhoun.
Standing several feet behind the three-point line, Calhoun missed and UConn’s worst night of the season came to an end with a loss.
“I felt Omar was the most open guy on the floor and I didn’t want to force a bad shot,” Napier said. “I believe that any shot he takes will go in. It didn’t. It happens.”
Shot selection, in particular, bothered Ollie.
“I wanted (Napier) to go to the basket,” Ollie said. “With Shabazz, though, you have to live with it because he’s put the team on his back so many times. He could've taken it to the basket a couple of times, but instead settled for the long three ball. We just did not make the winning in-game adjustment.”
The lack of a killer instinct is also a cause for concern. While mid-majors such as Boston University and Loyola of Maryland were unable to finish their comebacks against UConn, Stanford completed the job.
“When we got a team down, we have to play even harder,” Ollie said. “We can’t allow teams to get back in games. We have to be tougher. Tonight, we didn’t have the toughness to win. I hate saying that, because I pride myself on toughness.”
“That's on me, I didn't run the team the right way,” added Napier. “We’re not playing well when we have a double-digit lead and that’s my fault because I have the ball in my hands. Sometimes, when we have a big lead, I try to make everyone happy and run a play for a certain guy instead of taking something easier. It’s definitely something to learn from.”
There is little doubt the 3,000-mile plane ride to Washington will feel even longer for the Huskies, who play at the University of Washington Sunday.
“I want to see how tough we are in practice,” Ollie said. “I also want to see who is in this for the long haul. When adversity hits, it’s just not something you talk about, but something you live.”
The Huskies have done well dealing with adversity, but for the first time, they were unable to put out the fire.