Our long, regional nightmare is over, as is UConn's four-game, three-week-long losing streak, courtesy of Saturday's 69-46 win over Seton Hall in its first game minus Jim Calhoun.
After playing four games in which nobody played well offensively, bottoming out when UConn's three guards shot a combined 4-for-31 on Wednesday, this was a breath of fresh air.
Saturday, UConn got solid play from two of the three starting guards (Jeremy Lamb's 17 points* and 8 rebounds and Ryan Boatright's 19 points (8-12 FG), 5 assists, 4 steals), and got solid rebounding and defense from Alex Oriakhi (10 points, 8 rebounds) and Andre Drummond (7 points, but 6 rebounds and 7 blocks).
*- Underrated: this year's UConn team has been dreadful in terms of getting to the free throw line. They had 26 today, and Lamb had 12. Though of course that was aided by Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, who went all crazy pants after the game.
I'm very, very hesitant to look at this much-needed, yet not-very-telling win as a turning point. It came against a team missing its star player, a team that's now lost six in a row and is seemingly on the verge of a meltdown. It came in a game when the Huskies didn't execute the most crisp offense, shooting 43.4% from the field and 2-13 from 3. (Plus, UConn always plays well for George Blaney...at first. Then things go to hell.)
But if you want some actual reasons for hope, look no further than these two quotes from today's postgame. First, from the Blane Dog:
When XL crowd cheered for effort, diving for loose balls, "it almost brought tears to my eyes" Blaney said.
Here's hoping the players got the message, too.
How hard a team plays - particularly one that returns most of the players from a national championship squad - should never be an issue, but here we are in early February. The Huskies had been listless for most of the last six weeks in losing six of eight, looking discouraged and/or uninterested.
To watch UConn battle - on the boards, on the floor for loose balls - was heartening, and to hear the Morgue come to life has to be heartening to what is still a team of freshmen and sophomores. Even on days when shots aren't falling, there's no reason UConn should be getting outhustled. The Huskies showed some fire today, and while they still need to do that night in and night out, it's safe to say we're all encouraged after today.
Second, addressing the other macro issue with the squad (leadership and accountability), here's co-captain Oriakhi:
"I told guys, I'm willing to give up my minutes, I don't care anymore. I don't care if I'm on the bench...I just want to win."
Kudos to Alex - who has been dogged by us Internet pundit types for most of this season - for stepping up like a leader should. We know these kids have been frustrated, and we know they want to win. But the Huskies badly need to mature, and to adjust to what's gone wrong. This is a nice first step.
I remain skeptical that this team will suddenly morph back into the team we thought they would be, though we'll have a better idea after UConn's trips to the Yum Monday night and the Carrier Dome Saturday. Still, we have 48 hours of contentness after three weeks of suck. I'll take it.