When you haven't figured out how to attack a zone defense 27 games into a season, you shouldn't expect to beat a team that plays zone.
When you don't play with any energy for the final 15 minute stretch at the end of the first half, you shouldn't expect to win.
When you don't take advantage of a team starting the second half 2-for-19 from the field, you shouldn't expect to win.
And yet, here UConn was on Thursday night, leading 59-57 with 31 seconds to play, with the ball in the hands of its superstar point guard, a 5-second differential in the shot clock the only thing standing between the Huskies and their 21st win of the season.
Statistically, Kemba Walker came into Thursday ranked 30th in the entire country in turnover rate, according to KenPom.com. He does not turn the ball over. Ever. This game was over. Kemba would dribble around for a few seconds, draw a foul, hit two free throws, and send Marquette to its typical gutty, close loss to a top-tier team.
And then suck happened.
The first time down, Walker dribbled across the halfcourt line, and found himself trapped in the corner. He called UConn's final timeout with 20 seconds left. Next time down, Walker crossed the halfcourt line, swamped by two defenders. He picked up his dribble, and forced a pass into traffic that was picked off by Dwight Byucks with 11 seconds left.
Darius Johnson-Odom converted down at the other end, and just like that, we were headed to overtime. More suck than could fit on this page would ensue for the remaining five minutes, much of it involving a rather overly possessive Kemba Walker (foul off the OT tipoff, missed free throws, missed layups, missed jumpers, forced passes, a travel, etc.)
The shock hasn't entirely worn off from Marquette's 74-67 OT win over UConn at the Morgue, and I don't really have much else to add to this game. This loss isn't like the other losses - in the other losses, UConn hasn't shot well, or struggled against the zone, or were beaten by the better team.
Tonight, instead, UConn choked away a game because their superstar made uncharacteristically dumb decisions. I think this loss hurts more than any other this year because the circle of trust in all things Kemba has been breached. The one thing we've counted on all year - that even if Walker's shots weren't falling, that he wouldn't Dyson it up in the clutch - failed us tonight.
The Huskies have now lost five of their last eight games since starting the season 17-2. At 8-7 in the league (and in the best-case scenario tied with Marquette and West Virginia for 9th at the end of tonight), they're now scrambling just to avoid playing on Tuesday in the Big East tournament. With road games at Cincinnati and West Virginia, and a home game against Notre Dame, they aren't even guaranteed a .500 record in league play.
While just about every team goes through stretches of bad play in the Big East, the fact that UConn's stretch is coming at the end of February is very disheartening, and not a good sign for the Big East and NCAA Tournaments.
All the post-Maui/Texas/Villanova promise is on the brink. UConn is 20-7, but I don't think there's an observer of this team (non-Porter division) who would say that the Huskies have actually played like a top 25 team over the past month. If you're still viewing the team through the lens of "Nov. 10 expectations," you're not complaining. But if you're actually watching and experiencing this tumble firsthand...well, read the last 50-75 comments in TheOpenThread and you get the idea.
Regression to the mean is a bitch.