UConn's season comes to a fitting end in defeat to ASU
STORRS – The ending was only fitting.
After getting burned by game-winning threes by Texas and Yale in the same left corner at Gampel Pavilion, UConn’s year came to an end thanks to another opponent nailing a shot from the exact location.
This one, by Arizona State’s Shaquielle McKissic, didn’t come in the final 10 seconds like those previous daggers. It came with 2:10 remaining, but gave the Sun Devils the lead for good in an eventual 68-61 victory over the Ryan Boatright-less Huskies in the first round of the NIT.
The Huskies’ losses to Texas and Yale set the tone for a long and difficult season. Their defeat to Arizona State just provided more evidence on tape of why they struggled.
“Guys fought hard, but it just showed the inconsistencies we had all year,” said UConn coach Kevin Ollie, whose team came back from a 16-point deficit to tie, but were unable to secure the lead. “We need to do a better job as a coaching staff and as players to fix that for next year.”
McKissic scored seven of Arizona State's last nine points, and finished with a game-high 22 points. Savon Goodman added 14 points and nine rebounds.
With Boatright out because of a left shoulder injury suffered in the AAC Tournament on Sunday, the Huskies struggled to find any rhythm in the first 30 minutes, and it appeared Arizona State would coast with ease.
But, similar to the fight it showed this past weekend in Hartford, UConn never gave in.
Rodney Purvis, continuing his strong play, recorded a team-high 19 points and five steals and had a crucial dunk in the comeback.
After playing four games in four days at the AAC Tournament, Daniel Hamilton flew back to California to attend his grandmother’s funeral. He immediately returned for the game, and despite mental and physical fatigue, Hamilton had a solid performance with 16 points, seven rebounds, and three assists, with much of the offense running through him late.
“In the first half, we came out sluggish, like we’ve been doing pretty much all season,” Hamilton said. “We just tried to fight back in the second half. We played harder and started playing with pride. Once we started playing with pride, we came back.”
Purvis and Hamilton will be vital cogs on UConn’s roster next year. The Huskies saw an early glimpse of what it will be like due to Boatright’s absence.
Hamilton is convinced they will show even more improvement than the two did this season.
“We definitely got better. Especially going into the summer, though, we really got to work,” the freshman noted. “We really have to focus in and get better. I don’t want to be in this position (of being in the NIT) next year.”
Amida Brimah showed improvement at times this season, but efforts like his one on Wednesday is what still frustrates Ollie. Similar to his rough outings against Duke and SMU in the AAC title game, Brimah was invisible, finishing with no points and no rebounds in 19 minutes.
Ollie pulled him two minutes into the second half and did not use him again. Ollie said Brimah was not suffering from any injuries and simply stated, “Amida’s got to get better.”
Terrence Samuel, starting in place of Boatright, is another player UConn has to see improvement from next season. He had his best statistical line of the season Wednesday with 10 points, six assists, and four rebounds in 35 minutes. He still, however, aggravated Ollie to the point where walk-on Dan Guest took his place in the line-up for a stretch in the second half.
The Huskies, when reliving this 20-15 season, will certainly look back at their inability to close late games, especially at Gampel. It’s why they're home on March 18 instead of defending their national championship at the NCAA Tournament.
“We lost four games in the last 10 seconds. It’s not like we’re in a damn pit,” Ollie said. “Ten seconds, if that's the other end, we’re in the NCAA Tournament. I’m not crying over spilled milk, it is what it is, that’s the fine line. Those are the inches you have to fight for. There’s a fine line of being in the NCAA Tournament and not being in the NCAA Tournament.
"And it’s a great life lesson I can teach the kids, too. You have to value every game, every possession. That’s what I’ll teach them and keep teaching them.”
Whether those lessons will be learned remains to be seen.