Sunday’s 55-54 loss was heartbreaking to say the least, but it was also against the No. 7 team in the nation, and we had a real chance to beat them. Kevin Ollie's Huskies battled the whole game, and eventually were able to take the lead in the second half. Like good teams do, Texas did not waver and head coach Rick Barnes was able to squeak out a win in Gampel behind Jonathon Holmes’ go-ahead three with 2.2 seconds left.
Yes, the loss stung and probably will until our next big game against Duke. But it's important to remember that we are only 5 games into the season and still have a whole month to prepare for AAC play.
1. Ryan Boatright and Daniel Hamilton continue to carry the offensive load
Ryan Boatright was an absolute warrior in this game. There was no way UConn would have had a chance at victory without the senior taking over. Boat finished with 24 points and 7 rebounds, including six straight points to give us a 45-42 lead. He shot the ball 21 times, which is probably too many, but in a game like that, he was our offense and most of his shots were best for the team. After re-aggravating his ankle on the last play of the game, he needs to be healthy soon.
Hamilton continues to play at an elite level as one of our primary scorers. The freshman scored 13 points and found himself with the ball at the end of the shot clock many times throughout the game. Against a stronger defender like Holmes, he was still able to get into the lane, but when Texas went zone, there were times when he wasn’t involved. This will change as Hamilton and the team develop throughout the season.
With Boatright and Hamilton leading the charge, we still need one more guy to step up. Last year it was Shabazz Napier, DeAndre Daniels, and Boatright. I think all UConn fans are hoping Rodney Purvis is the solution.
2. Three-Point shooting has been a major issue in our two losses
This is an obvious one but should still be discussed. Shooting in general has been a problem for the Huskies.
It is only five games into the season, so obviously a lot can change, but we are 6-33 in our last two games from deep. This poor three-point shooting is a major reason for both of our losses, but there is still time for guys to start stepping up and hitting shots. Sam Cassell Jr., known for his three-point ability, has not shown much of it in his first five games. He is 5-25 from deep, including 1-7 in the loss to Texas. Other than Cassell, we only had two other players shoot threes: Boatright, who went 1-5, and Hamilton, who went 1-4.
Last year, we were blessed to have dependable three-point shooting from four guys on the court at the same time in Napier, Daniels, Niels Giffey, and Boatright. Now, we are searching for those guys. Again it is just two games, and college basketball is a very long season, but at the end of the day, players need to be able to make open three-pointers. So who’s going to step up? Could it be Omar Calhoun? (Yes, please)
3. Backcourt Play was not enough
We missed Rodney Purvis in this game. His participation in the game wouldn't guarantee a win, but we missed him nonetheless. Boatright and Terrance Samuel constantly drove into the lane with nowhere to go due to Texas’s size. Purvis is such an excellent driver that you would like to think he could have at least gotten to the line with his bigger frame.
That being said, we needed more out of Cassell and Samuel. Terrance struggled offensively but was great on defense throughout the game. Ollie had the right idea with his offense-defense substitutions between the two, but as mentioned before, Cassell did not shoot the ball that well. He did a good job getting open looks that he been known to make in high school and junior college, but Sunday was just not his day. Heading into the game, I thought for sure we had the backcourt advantage, and even when Purvis was ruled out, I felt like we had the upper hand. The Texas backcourt didn’t kill us by any means, but they did enough to win the basketball game. We just didn’t get enough from guards not named Ryan Boatright.
4. Frontcourt Play was enough
On the other hand, I thought our frontcourt had a great game, mostly on the defensive end. Offensively, our big men, especially Amida Brimah, were limited, but they battled hard on defense and on the boards. Cameron Ridley finished with 5 points and no rebounds. Connor Lammert hit Texas’s first basket of the game but that was all he did the rest of the game besides rebound. And Myles Turner, one of the top recruits in the country, was limited to just 7 points on 1-4 shooting.
Brimah, Phil Nolan, and Kentan Facey held their own against one of the biggest front lines we will probably see all season, winning the rebound battle 36-35. Nolan did not score, but played 23 quality minutes where he recorded 2 rebounds and 1 block. Facey continues his solid play, and quite frankly, I thought he deserved more playing time. In 21 minutes, he scored 4 points on 1-2 shooting while grabbing 8 rebounds, 3 offensive. Brimah is still trying to find his way on the offensive side of the court, but I don’t think anyone was expecting for him to have a dominant game against guys like Turner and Ridley. He finished with just 4 points on 1-7 shooting with 2 rebounds and 3 blocks.
We shot 30.4% from the field and 18.8% from three, and if it wasn’t for Holmes' game-winning three, we would have won. Part of our ability to stay competitive can be attributed to keeping them off the glass, but it was defense that truly kept us in this game. In the first half, the Longhorns had multiple opportunities to stretch their lead to seven or eight points, but UConn's defense stiffened, and the offense finally cashed in. Texas was held to just 37% shooting and forced 13 turnovers, but I almost feel like those numbers don’t do our defense justice.
Ryan Boatright, as usual, was a pest on defense, mostly disrupting Demarcus Holland. Holland finished with 10 points, but all came in transition-- not Boatright’s fault. Someone has to stop ball. Samuel played terrific on Texas’s primary ball-handler Javan Felix, who shot just 4-11 from the field. The best defender of the day, in my opinion, was Daniel Hamilton. His offensive game was mentioned earlier in this article, but his defense is what stood out to me. Always in a defensive stance, the freshman locked up Texas’s best player Jonathon Holmes. People will remember Holmes’ shot, but it was just his fourth made field goal of the game. He finished with 13 points on 4-13 shooting, going 0-6 on two-pointers. Hamilton, who played a game high 39 minutes, did a magnificent job.
Defense wins championships, and we have a really good one. We lost because of one shot at the buzzer. If that ball doesn’t go in, we are having a totally different discussion right now about the resilience of this defensive-minded team. Soon, players will fit into their roles better and we will start flowing together. Until then, all we can say is: