Three times this season, UConn has gone down to New York and given the opposing team a chance to tie or win the game on the last shot, and all three times, UConn has managed to make the last stop and escape New York with a close win.
Nov. 8: Trailing by as many as 17 points in the second half, Maryland storms back and has a chance to win the game on their last possession. With Shabazz Napier on the bench, having fouled out a few minutes earlier, UConn manages to pull out the 78-77 win after Dez Wells misses a fallaway layup and Amida Brimah grabs the rebound. UConn's game-winning basket proved to be an unlikely three-pointer from Tyler Olander of all people.
Nov. 21: Boston College trails UConn 72-70 after coming back from an 11 point deficit, and has a chance to win the game on a buzzer beater three by Lonnie Jackson. Ryan Boatright soundly rejects the shot, and Husky fans across the nation exhale.
Last night: After engaging in a back and forth battle in which the lead seemed to changed every possession, UConn finally has a chance to ice the game with a 59-58 lead, 30 seconds left and the shot clock off. But after Napier got called for an offensive foul, Indiana had two chances to win the game. First Yogi Ferrell missed a jumper, and then when that went out of bounds, freshman Noah Vonleh had 0.7 seconds to send up a prayer. It wasn't answered.
The positive takeaway from last night is that UConn is now 6-0 and remains undefeated going into Thanksgiving week. More importantly, for all his occasionally frustrating tendencies, Napier is clearly a player capable of taking over and carrying the Huskies to victory, and the team itself has now demonstrated a consistent ability to make the last stop when everything is on the line.
The negative take, of course, is that UConn once again had a chance to put the game away late but instead gave the other team one last chance. Worse, the rest of the roster has been somewhat inconsistent and the team's big men can't seem to stay out of foul trouble.
You could make both arguments, but I think last night gave Husky fans a lot of reason for optimism.
For one, Indiana is a very good team. They will likely be ranked when the next polls come out, and despite losing some great players like Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller to the pros, they are still a talented team and should be playing in March when the Tournament Field is announced.
Secondly, this was an extremely sloppy game, but there's something to be said about being able to win a bar fight. Neither team ever had a particularly commanding lead (UConn's largest lead was seven, Indiana's was five), but unlike in past games, UConn was the one who made the big comeback late. Down 51-46 with five minutes left, Napier and DeAndre Daniels combined to score the team's final 13 points, and the two teams traded leads seven times during that stretch before UConn finally got the last stop it needed.
There are going to be times when most of UConn's best players just don't have it. Boatright and Calhoun both had pretty rough games, and none of the big men outside of Daniels were particularly effective either. Hell, even Niels Giffey missed two three-pointers! Despite that, the team still found a way to win, and at the end of the day, winning ugly is better than not winning at all.
UConn will have the rest of the weekend off before facing Loyola (Md.) in Hartford on Tuesday night, and then they'll have another week to get ready for the big showdown with No. 16 Florida at Gampel on Dec. 2.
Shabazz Napier: 27 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 7 turnovers
DeAndre Daniels: 7 points, 6 rebounds
Ryan Boatright: 9 points (2-for-9 shooting), 4 rebounds
Omar Calhoun: 2 points (1-for-7 shooting, 0-for-5 from three)
Yogi Ferrell: 19 points (6-for-19 shooting), 4 rebounds
Will Sheehey: 12 points, 5 rebounds
Noah Vonleh: 0 points, 2 rebounds