UConn falls short - again
STORRS – Too little, too late. And very, very fitting.
In a game that nicely summed up the past two years of UConn basketball, the Huskies jumped out to a 10-point lead, fell behind by 23, and rallied to pull within four. Like last season, time ran out for them on Sunday as Memphis escaped Gampel Pavilion with an 83-79 win that all but knocks the Huskies out of NIT consideration.
At 13-16 (6-10 AAC), the Huskies basically need to beat Temple and Houston to end the regular season (they’ll be underdogs in each game) and win two games at the AAC Tournament. Of course, they can win the AAC tourney and earn an NCAA Tournament berth, but that would be a miracle at this point.
After UConn's strong start in which it took a 23-13 lead, the Tigers went on an astounding 50-17 run. What was the cause of this immense turnaround?
“We just stopped playing for a stretch,” said a deflated Kevin Ollie. That’s hardly a good look, and admission, from Ollie as he tries to keep his job.
In the final stretch, Ollie went to a lineup that featured Jalen Adams, Christian Vital, Antwoine Anderson, Kwintin Williams (in for the first time all game) and Mamadou Diarra, with Terry Larrier (only eight points and four shots) on the bench. It resulted in one of the team’s best stretches of the season. The group played hard, fast, and pressed their way into a nearly epic comeback. They just ran out time. The time to use this up-tempo lineup, however, was much sooner than executed.
“I love playing like that, because that’s when you can just get out and have fun,” said Adams, who scored 21 of his game-high 25 points during that time. “With that group, we really don’t call too many plays, we spread the floor and whoever is the hot hand, we just feed them and share the ball. It’s fun playing like that. We have to play like that more often and have more stretches like those last 10 minutes.”
Despite UConn’s lack of depth, Williams has seen limited playing time. His effort Sunday was one the Huskies have desperately lacked. He finished with seven points and seven rebounds in those 10 minutes.
“He brought life to the team,” Adams said. “He’s the reason why we came back. He may not score 20 points, but his energy and presence is amazing.”
“I thought he played tremendous,” noted Ollie. “It’s just consistency (with him). He’s doing the job. As a coach, I make the decision (along) with my coaching staff. That’s what we do, we go by feel. We go off of practice in this program. Not saying he wasn’t practicing hard, but we have to see that each and every day — the evidence of him coming in and working hard.”
Mike Parks Jr. had 18 points and seven rebounds for the Tigers (18-11, 9-7 AAC), while Jamal Johnson and Raynere Thornton combined for 34 points and 9 three-pointers in just 12 attempts.
UConn had maybe its best offensive game of the season, shooting 50 percent from the field and 42 percent from three. Vital added 19 points and Anderson finished with 10. Yet again, though, the Huskies found themselves on the wrong end of the scoreboard. Very fitting.