The score was 54-49 SMU with a little over 4 minutes to play. Uconn, struggling through one if its most frustrating performances of the year, had just gained momentum. Their star point guard Shabazz Napier, mired in the worst game of his year, had finally come alive, and Ryan Boatright, the only player on the floor who had shown continued toughness, had made a big three.
This was the crossroads moment, and as Napier dribbled into traffic he found DeAndre Daniels, invisible for almost the entire game, who had a wide-open three. Make it and it's a two point game. Make it and Gampel Pavilion would have seen the roof fly off.
Make it and Uconn might have pulled out a win against a good opponent that's about as well coached as any in the country.
He didn't hit it. In fact, he didn't come close and the air came right out of the Husky's bubble.
UConn lost its second game in a row to SMU Sunday afternoon, a team they probably wouldn't even have considered scheduling two years ago for fear of hurting their RPI just by playing the game.
The final score was 64-55.
First things first … SMU deserves credit. They are a good team. They don't have a lot of talent but they maximize it all. They execute what their Hall of Fame head coach lays out for them. They have some toughness and some guys who don't seem likely to quit on a play or a game.
Simply put, SMU deserved to beat Uconn twice this year. They were the better team in both games.
But this wasn't just about SMU exerting its will on Uconn. This was about the Huskies offering up a clunker just when you thought they might have gotten that out of their system a while ago.
The only players who distinguished themselves were Amida Brimah who, when not sitting because of foul trouble, was a force in the middle, blocking shots and rebounding well, and Ryan Boatright, who's best offense, and really the team's best offense, was him taking some less-than-pretty shots and drawing a few fouls. Boatright was also at times in the second half the only one who looked like he wanted to be on the floor, refusing to give in and trying, in vain it turns out, to will his team to give more of a consistent effort.
The real shock was how poorly Shabazz played. This was Napier's worst game of the season by far. Remove one little two-minute run in the second half when Shabazz looked like Shabazz and Uconn's star point guard was a complete non-factor. Not only that but he did nothing to help teammates get into the flow of the game. He looked confused right from the get-go by SMU's tenacious defense and tentative, inexplicably passing up on some open threes and then trying wild shots in the lane that had no chance of scoring. Shabazz's bad game could be exemplified by a play in the middle of the first half when he received a kickout from Boatright, faked a three even though he was open, dribbled INTO the defense, then jumped back to take a wild, contested three point shot. The only thing he didn't miss were a few photographers in the front row.
Unfortunately for Uconn, no one stepped up. Daniels was once again a no-show and it's become obvious that any dreams of DeAndre shaking his inconsistently are just that … dreams. If there was ever a game that screamed for Daniels to take over it was this one. Instead, he was simply a shadow.
Lasan Kromah, who's been as reliable as anyone on the roster this year, had himself a horrific game. Not only did he miss a handful of wide-open threes that could have helped Uconn take control of the game iin the middle of the first half but he also played bad defense and was sloppy with the ball. It was that kind of a game.
Uconn's first half was punctuated by bad offense and turnovers, but they played well on the defensive side of the ball and took advantage of some shoddy play by SMU, which seemed intent on matching Uconn turnover for turnover. It was a 27-25 game at the half.
Uconn's putrid offense continued into the second. What did not was their rebounding and their defensive tenacity.
In the big picture, Uconn had a shot to earn another victory over a good conference opponent but threw it away with a one of their most disappointing performances of the year.
Give credit where credit is due, SMU deserved this game and, as much as it pains me to say, Larry Brown has completely out-coached his former player, Kevin Ollie, in two games this year.
This was a missed opportunity to further bolster the team's resume. Let's see if they can take advantage of the few more they have left this year.