UConn stumbles to the finish in loss to Cincy
HARTFORD – The scene was too crazy to even imagine.
Sitting behind the UConn bench Thursday night was Husky legend Shabazz Napier, owner of two championship rings and one of the most famous shots in school history, a buzzer beater against Florida that lives on in highlight reels, including the Huskies’ pregame introduction video.
The Roxbury, Mass. native’s shot came off an offensive rebound tipped out by DeAndre Daniels. On Thursday against Cincinnati, UConn found itself in an eerily similar situation. With the game on the line and an offensive rebound punched out to the backcourt, the Huskies’ newest Roxbury resident, Jalen Adams, found the ball in his hands with a chance for the win.
Adams’ shot, a turnaround, fade-away three-pointer, will not be a part of any UConn highlight film. The attempt, a much harder one than Napier’s, didn't come close and the Huskies suffered a crushing loss, 58-57, to a good Bearcats team in front of 13,242 stunned fans at the XL Center.
“I thought it was going in,” Adams said. “I wish it did.”
The NCAA Tournament selections will be announced on March 13. If UConn is on the bubble that day and is not chosen, it will certainly look back on Thursday night as a major lost opportunity.
The Huskies, seemingly in control, blew a late four-point lead in yet another defensive slugfest with Cincinnati.
Adams (11 points) gave UConn that advantage on a strong drive to the hoop with 1:44 remaining. The Huskies would not score again.
On UConn’s next possession, Adams committed a huge turnover, leading to a lay-up from Jacob Evans with 1:00 on the clock. Those were Cincinnati’s first points in 6:16.
Daniel Hamilton’s jumper then rimmed out, followed by Gary Clark’s three-point play for the lead with 11 seconds left. Shonn Miller was called for the foul in the paint, a whistle that irked Kevin Ollie.
Ollie called a timeout, and set up the play for Sterling Gibbs. Rodney Purvis inbounded from the left side, and Gibbs drove toward the foul line. His shot, an off-balance one contested by Kevin Johnson, was off.
Miller grabbed the rebound between three Bearcats and missed the putback, fighting through contact, but not enough to warrant a whistle despite another vocal plea from Ollie.
“I was trying to get penetration and try to get fouled,” Ollie said of his play call. “I thought we got fouled, but the refs did not call it.”
“I’ve got to finish the lay-up,” Miller simply said, refusing to discuss the officials.
The ball was then hit out to Adams, whose shot missed at the buzzer. Last season, the Huskies beat Cincinnati in Hartford on Ryan Boatright’s buzzer-beating three during the AAC Tournament.
"This is a tough loss especially knowing that I turned the ball over late in the game,” Adams said. “I took that really personal. It's something I need to work on.”
“It comes down to one possession, the ref calls a foul on one end and didn’t call a foul on the other end,” Ollie lamented.
The Bearcats (16-6, 6-3 AAC) frustrated UConn with their zone in the second half, holding the Huskies to 28 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes, including two straight shot clock violations late. UConn had a strong first half, making 50 percent of their shots en route to a 36-31 advantage.
Gibbs hit three consecutive three-pointers in one sequence, but was unable to sustain the hot hand, finishing with 14 points. Miller had another strong performance with 11 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks. Purvis (12 points) and Hamilton (five points, eight rebounds, eight assists) struggled from the field again, especially close to the rim.
“We just missed lay-ups. We got to the rim and missed lay-ups,” Ollie said. “I can’t do nothing else. We’ve got to make the lay-ups. We can’t have our two best players shooting 2-for-11 (Hamilton) and 5-of-17 (Purvis). We’re not going to win like that. “
“We played good defense,” he continued. “We just have to shoot better. We can’t keep shooting 38 percent.”
The Huskies are now 14-6, and 5-3 in league play. Up next, they travel to UCF on Sunday. They still have another battle scheduled with the Bearcats, and two against SMU. Time, and opportunities, are starting to slip away to make a case for an at-large NCAA Tournament.
If they miss out on it, this defeat will sting for a long time. Their inability to finish, and stumble into some old Roxbury magic, are the reasons why.