UConn lost last night. Sean Kilpatrick hit a well-defended 3 with 2.5 seconds left, Niels Giffey's 3/4-court shot rimmed out, and the Huskies left Gampel Pavilion with their third Big East loss and fourth of the season. But last night wasn't like Seton Hall, or Rutgers, or even UCF. Those games were frustrating losses where a clearly superior UConn team played down to inferior competition and lost a game that should have been winnable. Last night wasn't like that, last night was, to borrow a phrase Kevin used in TheOpenThread, "so stupid".
Everything about last night was dumb. Even when UConn played their best basketball (a 17-4 run early in the second half that gave the Huskies the lead), you never got the feeling that anything was secure. It was the type of night when your opponent get so many breaks and hits so many contested shots that you can just tell the night isn't going to go your way. I'm sure Jim Calhoun will have plenty to say to his team, but as a fan, after a game like that, I don't have a big problem with just throwing up my hands and saying that we lost. It happens in college basketball.
There are definitely things to be concerned about. After putting together their best game of the season, Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi were horrid, scoring six points on 3-16 shooting while grabbing a combined 12 rebounds, and that was against a team that spent a significant amount of time running a 4-guard lineup.
Jeremy Lamb wasn't great either.He scored 14 points, but you wouldn't have known it from watching him hang around the perimeter so much that even Rudy Gay thought he was being too passive. We talk a lot about how the absence of Ryan Boatright affects Shabazz Napier, but I'm starting to think the person who is really hurt is Lamb. Look at the numbers that Carl put together in this post. The Napier/Lamb lineup is UConn's worst offensively, and I imagine a lot of that has to do with Shabazz's hesitance to drive to the hoop (not that he won't, he obviously can and does, but Boatright is a Kemba-esque rim-seeking missile) which reduces the opportunities for chaos that allow Lamb to thrive outside.
And then, of course, there was Shabazz. My twitter feed blew up in agreement after I said: "I LOVE SHABAZZ. I HATE SHABAZZ. I LOVE SHABAZZ." I think that says a lot about the fanbase's relationship with the enigmatic point guard. Shabazz once again was sloppy with the ball, turning it over five times, but if you showed me the rest of his box score I would have sworn it belonged to Kemba last year: 27 points, 10-19 shooting, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals.
He also asserted himself as UConn's late-game leader in a very real way. He scored 10 points in the last 90 seconds, single handledly willing the Huskies back into a game that should have been over. Of course, Shabazz being Shabazz, he also launched one of the most misguided 3's you'll ever see during those 90 seconds (if you want, check out the replay around the 1:20 mark of the game. UConn is down six, Napier dribbles up court, tries to get set, visibly slips, doesn't bother to reset and launches up an airball of a 3. Vintage Shabazz).
If you want to know my favorite Napier play though, you'll have to go back to the start of the second half. At the 17:25 mark Yancy Gates threw down a monster dunk. As the rest of the team looked around lifeless, Shabazz sprinted to the ball, tossed it into Oriakhi, took it right back, sprinted past all his teammates to get down the court and hit a run-sparking jumper. He did it so fast that Oriakhi somehow got credit for the assist and it snuffed out any momentum Cincinnati might have gained to start the half. Watching that I saw a player who knew his team needed to get going and decided he was going to get them to where they needed to be, no matter what. Leadership is an admittedly nebulous concept, but whatever a leader is on a basketball court -- and Napier has had his struggles trying to figure it out it -- Shabazz was pretty damn close last night.
Two final thoughts:
First, Niels Giffey was pretty awesome. He played 34 minutes, which is crazy, scored 10 points on 4-6 shooting, didn't turn the ball over and grabbed six rebounds. More of that please.
Second, late in the broadcast they said Ryan Boatright would meet with NCAA investigators today. Here's hoping that meeting goes well and he's cleared to play in Tennessee on Saturday. UConn needs him.