I am 23 years old and have been a UConn fan for each and every day of my life. My grandfather went to UConn, my father went to UConn and ultimately, I went to UConn. I was raised on UConn basketball and have followed the team with a fervid devotion.
I spent a good amount of my youth in Colorado, but would often spend holidays in Connecticut, which allowed me a chance to see the team I adored in person. Such was the case in 2001 when I received a pair of basketball tickets for Christmas. The game was scheduled for Dec. 28, the team was undefeated at the time and by a small stroke of luck, my father was able to get the best seats we had ever had for a UConn game, half-court, second row. I was thrilled. The Huskies were led by a standout
freshman sophomore named Caron Butler and, as always is the case with UConn's late-December scheduling, the team was set to thrash whatever cupcake had agreed to play them.
As it happened, that cupcake was a small school from New York called St. Bonaventure and instead of the game being part a lovely winter evening that turned into a fond holiday memory, it became a nightmare. St. Bonaventure destroyed UConn, coasting to an easy win, 88-70. The Huskies were outhustled and looked overmatched. Jim Calhoun called it one of the worst home losses of his career. It was the worst UConn game I had ever seen. Until last night.
I am trying very hard not to drift into hyperbole, but I have watched more UConn games then I can count and have spent more time thinking about UConn basketball then I care to admit, and I cannot recall a game where the Huskies played worse than they did in the horror show last night.
The boxscore has most of the grisly details, chief among them the lines of Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson. Dyson went 2-14 and still, somehow, found the time to commit 5 turnovers. Robinson, a player I have defended over and over again, picked the worst possible time to revert to his worst tendencies. Apparently he was on the court for 35 minutes, but I find that hard to believe seeing as he only managed 4 shots and 6 points.
I imagine the most work Robinson did last night came when he mustered a straight face to give this quote to the Courant: "There was nothing we could do," Robinson said. "We could have played harder ... but they wore us down."
The team only scored 50 points and in a 40-minute game managed to only hit 17 field goals. In one 18 minute stretch they were held to just 6 points and did everything they could to give aid and comfort to a Notre Dame team that at times seemed to be begging UConn to beat them.
No one is without blame. As we saw against Villanova and West Virginia, if Kemba Walker wants to take over and lead the team, this group can be great. Well last night Walker decided to take a pass on that responsibility. He was able to score 15 points and did not commit a turnover, but despite being a point guard he was only able to muster two assists.
As for the big men, I'll just say two quick things. First, with the exception of Gavin Edwards, every single one of them was outrebounded by the 6'1" (ha!) Walker. Second, Charles Okwandu's line is emblematic of the way the entire front court played. In his seven minutes, Okwandu took one shot (he missed), grabbed no rebounds, blocked no shots and contributed nothing beyond allowing UConn to have the requisite amount of players on the court.
The numbers alone are dispiriting, but the context is what really makes this game sting. One week ago, UConn was flying high on a three-game win streak that included wins over two top-10 teams. Sunday's loss to Louisville hurt, but the Cardinals are at least a competent squad and UConn did not look awful. The Huskies were still in good position, helped by the weakness of the bubble. A win last night probably would have sealed their NCAA bid and allowed the seniors to avoid the indignity of missing the tournament twice in their four years. Hell, even a competent performance would have kept UConn in good position to go dancing. But the Huskies did not get a competent performance. Not even close. Like always, when this team had to show up, had to show they wanted to win, they didn't.
Notre Dame did everything they could to hand UConn this game. They rely on the outside shot and went 3-15 from behind the arc. They did not have their best player. They forced (key word) almost no turnovers. They only scored 17 points in the first half. Even a mediocre performance would have allowed UConn to steal the game, brush the sweat from their brow, and move on.
In a lot of ways, I still cannot process just how bad this loss was. At a time when UConn teams traditionally play their best, this team is doing the exact opposite. For nine long years, St. Bonaventure has haunted my memories. No longer. Congratulations Notre Dame, from now on, when I think of being tormented by a basketball game, I'll be thinking of you.