Do you have an answer to the question in the headline? Because I don't. I know my role on the site is that of the optimist, but after a strong-ish showing at Syracuse and the demolition of DePaul I really thought something had finally clicked with this basketball team. Andre Drummond was assertive inside, Alex Oriakhi had snapped out of his season-long slump, Jeremy Lamb rediscovered his jumper, Ryan Boatright had gelled and Shabazz Napier found more of whatever magical elixir he drinks to make me write SHABAZZ! in happiness rather than in anger. And then yesterday happened.
There were still flashes yesterday, the run-up to Ryan Boatright's dumbass technical foul provided the most exciting moments of this unbearable season, Shabazz played well and Lamb played really well. But when it came down to it, something always seemed to get in the way of UConn being what we all want them to be. On more than a few occasions, that something was the officiating, which was so bad that its only equal was George Blaney's refusal to respond to it. But make no mistake, it wasn't the refs that lost the game, it was the Huskies, and now, the season may be lost, especially when your point guard is making comments like this:
"I've got to question a lot of these guys' hearts. Just simple stuff like allowing alley-oops at the end of the game, just quitting ... it doesn't look like UConn basketball. You don't quit. It doesn't look like basketball at all. Where I'm from, you ain't getting that alley-oop at the end of the game. You won the game, you won the game. Don't try to embarass us. That's just a measure of your heart. If you've got to knock somebody out of the air, you knock them out of the air. The other team's not going to beat you up physically. It can't happen. It looked like we gave up at the end. That's tough to say, because we're a great team. For those words to be coming out of my mouth, it's just horrendous."
"When push comes to shove, it's who's out there and who's not giving it back. Some guys don't want to give it back. Some guys get punched and want to throw a pillow at somebody. It's basketball, you're supposed to go out there and give it your all. This is team basketball, it's not tennis, it's not golf, it's not a one-player sport. You get punched, and some guys are throwing pillows back. You're not supposed to throw pillows back, you're supposed to lock up on defense and do the necessary things to get the win."
"I'm blunt. I told guys all the time what I feel, but sometimes I hold a lot back in ... I don't want to say the wrong things. But at the end of the game, I told the guys, 'I've got to question a lot of your hearts.' You're not giving your all. I make mistakes, but at the same time, I learn from my mistakes, I make sure I apologize for my mistakes, and I tell guys, 'I'm not perfect.' The only reason I'm speaking out is because I'm the captain, and at the end of the day, I"m the only one who wants to speak out. Everybody else, when they get in the locker room, they're so quiet, like we just died."
I don't know what's worse, that Shabazz made those comments to a reporter, or that he's right.
I'll end with two quick thoughts:
The first is that this team needs Jim Calhoun. I don't know if he'll be back this year, but if you told me that he'd be coaching against Syracuse next Saturday I'd feel a hell of a lot better about where this season is going because George Blaney, as much as he's done for the program, is not cut out to lead this team.
The second is this: who unbelievably good was Kemba Walker? This season is mirroring last season in so many ways that I can't begin to count them, but the key difference is that Kemba isn't there (big insight, I know). The will to win? Gone. The late-game playmaking ability? Gone. The competitive spirit? Gone. The megawatt smile? Gone.
This team has talent, it can be good, it might even have the potential to be great, but the clock is ticking perilously close to midnight and this season -- and maybe the future of this program -- is starting to look a lot like a pumpkin.