I'll get this out of the way up top: even though UConn outscored them 41-40, Seton Hall deserves all the credit in the world for their play in the second half. Until I just looked up those numbers I would have sworn that the Hall outscored UConn by 5 or 10, because everytime UConn seemed to get a little momentum or string a few plays together, the Pirates would hit a backbreaking three or get a good basket in transition. They looked like exactly what they were: a relatively talented team riding the emotion of the crowd to play a perfect half and seal their biggest victory in at least a decade.
But I'm not really worried about the second half, because it's not where UConn lost the game. Instead, I'm focused on the last 9:44 of the first half. Why such a specific number? Because the 9:44 mark was when Aaron Geramipoor stuck his leg out as part of a dirty pick that hurt Shabazz Napier's right leg (if you want to see it, go to the 26:14 mark of the ESPN3 Replay). Napier went to the bench, and when he returned reporters on twitter noted that he looked visibly bothered by the leg.
Shabazz wasn't having a great night up to that point, but it wasn't terrible. He was shooting 1-3 with 3 points, 3 assists and 1 turnover. But after he went down on his ankle? He went 1-9, added 3 points, had only 1 assist and had 4 turnovers. The team as a whole had 10 turnovers in the next 10 minutes and UConn was outscored 21-9.
Were there other factors? Sure, and I'll touch on them after the jump, but at the end of the day UConn has no backcourt depth and they're going to live and die with Napier. When the announcers point out early in the second half that Shabazz has thrown the ball out of bounds the last three times he has driven to his right, it means something is wrong. We all know Napier can be erratic and make some dumb decisions, but he's not that wild. I have a hard time blaming the kid for trying to play through his issues, so at some point he needs to be sat down for a few minutes.
I have a hard time buying it was the Seton Hall's changing zones that utterly befuddled the Huskies for those ten minutes. After all, the Huskies scored 41 points against it in the second half. The problem was either that Napier wasn't there, or wasn't himself when he was.
I rewatched the first ten minutes of the game, where UConn looked great at first, jumping out to a 11-2 lead, and then stumbled to the 13-14 deficit that Napier got hurt at. Even that stumble wasn't terrible though. UConn had a bad turnover or two (breaking: Alex Oriakhi does not have great hands), but they were taking decent shots that just did not fall. They were simply a hot team falling back to earth. The problem is that they never got up.
It's hard to evaluate coaching when we can't see practice or hear what's said in the huddle, but it's undeniable that George Blaney let Seton Hall go on several extended runs without calling a timeout, and it last night's environment that's a mistake.
But this isn't the end of the world. UConn was going to lose some games in the Big East, and as I wrote yesterday, losing this one wouldn't have been a shock. It's also no secret that if Napier plays poorly the rest of the team will struggle. Most importantly, today, after a very long week, the Huskies will finally be reunited with Jim Calhoun, a sense of normalcy can be restored and the team can get back to business.