NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 08: Charles Okwandu #35 of the Connecticut Huskies celebrates a basket against the DePaul Blue Demons at Madison Square Garden on March 8, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
The five-year hex hovering over the Huskies at Madison Square Garden has been lifted. And all it took was playing one of the worst teams in major college basketball.
But as is UConn's tradition when playing in NYC in March, it wasn't pretty
What ultimately turned into a 26-point beatdown could have easily veered into "new low" territory, as DePaul, the No. 199 team in the country (according to KenPom), trailed by only one point after the first 10 minutes and responded to a 23-point first-half deficit by opening the second with a 15-2 run.
And just a game removed from turning it over just three times, the Huskies gave the ball back to the Blue Demons a season-high 20 times.
It was the most UConn blowout possible, with the Huskies relying on talent and physical superiority to overcome lapses and glaring deficiencies in execution.
But in the end, it was still a win. A big win. Because not only does it break an unusual cycle of futility for a team that has won the second most Big East tournaments in conference history, but it's also (finally) a positive development for a team, fresh off of two straight losses and four loses over its past five, in dire need of some kind of spark, some kind of momentum.
The Huskies' fatal flaws (ineptitude against the zone, no post offense, poor 3-point shooting) make a long March run unlikely. But what makes UConn a darkhorse to even make it past the next round may be the strongest point in the case for it winning the whole thing. Because despite all of their issues and inconsistency, the Huskies still have an abundance of (mostly undeveloped) talent in young and inexperienced core.
Despite his second-half struggles, Kemba Walker is still one of the best college players in the nation. Although plagued by inconsistency, Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb are two of the best freshmen in the conference. And Alex Oriakhi, despite his mind-numbingly frustrating offensive game, can still make an impact on the boards like few others.
The Huskies have the pieces that, with a some luck and a few breaks, could turn their usual march mayhem into a miracle. Especially with the way their side of the bracket is shaping up, with a Chris Wright-less Georgetown team on tap tomorrow.
Getting past DePaul was the first step in perhaps defying rationality.
And yet, it may also have been two steps back in the Huskies' attempt to reclaim some of the glory of early on in the season.
UConn turned on the afterburners after the Demons' second-half run, turning an uneasy advantage to a rout, but the flaws that have led to so many losses since the start of Big East play were still apparent, even though it wouldn't necessarily be apparent by a glance at the box score.
The Huskies shot 60 percent from the floor and 91 percent from the free throw line ... but they shot just 2-for-8 behind the arc. And while Walker (26 points), Lamb (19 points) and Oriakhi (13 points, 19 rebounds) all came away with impressive lines, it's hard to put too much credence into any of them playing at the fastest pace this season against the worst opponent it has faced since the last time it faced this exact opponent two months ago that for some reason refused to play zone.
For UConn to have any chance at making a run at MSG, it needed to make a statement against a clearly inferior DePaul team.
And by blowing out the Demons by 20-plus, the Huskies did just that.
But it may not have been the one most had hoped for.