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Postgame Talk: What we learned against Duke and what's next for UConn

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UConn gave Duke a fight in Thursday's loss, but did the Huskies impress? Three of our writers discussed this and more.

Kentan Facey wasn't just one of UConn's best players last night, he's been big all season.
Kentan Facey wasn't just one of UConn's best players last night, he's been big all season.
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Krzyzewski said UConn played its butt off, that the Huskies played like the championship program they are, but it was still Krzyzewski's Duke Blue Devils who walked out of the Izod Center victorious Thursday night, beating UConn 66-56.

Tim Fontenault, Elan DeCarlo and Matt Gionfriddo were in New Jersey for the game. After taking some time to sleep on it and mull over the wild affair Thursday at the Meadowlands, the three discussed the positives, the negatives and what is to come for the 4-4 Huskies.

DeCarlo: Last night's game left me conflicted. On one hand, Duke outclassed UConn. Talent wise, it seemed like UConn was overmatched. Jahlil Okafor made sure no UConn big guy stayed on the floor, Tyus Jones was able to get his against Boatright and the secondary pieces, Amile Jefferson in particular, made big impacts.

On the other hand, the final score was 66-56. In the last few minutes, UConn had the deficit cut to six. They absolutely had a chance to win the game, had a handful of plays gone differently. To me, the praise needs to begin with Boatright. Boat brought his A-game, once again. Finishing with a game high 22 points, he was the only Husky to hit a 3-pointer.

The next morning, this game is still confusing me. What did you guys think?

Gionfriddo: Last night's game left me with a few thoughts. First, Duke is absolutely one of the best teams in the nation, right up there with Kentucky, and we hung tough for a full 40 minutes. Duke hit every shot that they needed to make in order to win and that's what good teams do. For us, clearly our offense is not where we need it to be in order to win these types of games. We shot 42.6 percent from the field, which isn't awful, but the number that startled me was the fact that we only had five assists. Five!  Most of this was due to Duke's defense, but also because we had a lot of one-on-one play rather than working it around for a good, open shot. Either way, it is extremely difficult to win a game at any level with that few assists, but we almost did because of our defense. We forced Duke to commit 19 turnovers and shoot 5 of 19 from three, but yet again, we could not make the big shots after making the big stops.

Boatright was undoubtedly our best player on the court, but he lacked a sidekick to put us over the edge.

Fontenault: I think you are both spot on. What really stuck out to me offensively – I’m really glad you asked Boatright about it, Elan – is the glaring lack of confidence on the perimeter from Rodney Purvis and Daniel Hamilton. They pump faked a lot of 3-pointers and drove straight into traffic. Like Boatright said, Ollie gives them the freedom to be who they want to be. They are both good enough to hit those shots, but they need to be more confident.

There is some really good news for UConn, however. That defense was pretty close to spectacular last night. Duke scored about 22 points below their season average and shot nearly 15 percent below their average. The Huskies won the national championship by taking offensive juggernauts out of their game. They have been incredible defensively through their first eight games, so if they can get that offense going, they will destroy the American Athletic Conference and be a tough out again come March.

Gionfriddo: I totally agree with what Boatright said. I thought there were multiple occasions where Hamilton should have let the ball fly from behind the arc. He has already proven this season that he can make the three so I'm not totally sure what his thought process was last night. As far as Purvis, he is obviously not a great shooter, and I think about three to five 3-point attempts a game from him is enough. With that being said, he is not the type of player to pump fake, take two dribbles and pull up the from the free throw line for a mid-range jumper. He needs to either shoot the three or take it all the way into the bigs-he cannot be scared going to the hoop.

Also, I know I've been advocating for Omar Calhoun all season, and I know last night was his first game of the year but what did you guys think of him and do you think he should have played more?

Fontenault: I hate hearing people nag Calhoun for his misfirings last year. He never recovered from the offseason surgeries. I think he would have been fantastic early this season if not for the knee injury. He looked more confident last night than he ever did last year, and I think he’s going to steadily find his form again.

The player who was definitely a revelation last night – as he has been all year – is Kentan Facey. With Brimah on the bench for most of the game, Facey stepped up on the offensive end. It wasn’t just his 14 points (though I was blown away when he grabbed Hamilton’s poorly-aimed lob off the glass and went under and up with it), but his five offensive rebounds were a much needed contribution.

In my opinion, he is one of UConn’s three main offensive threats, along with Boatright and whoever the one other player is who will make shots on any given night. What do you guys think?

Gionfriddo: Couldn't agree more about Omar. Hip surgery is extremely difficult to recover from, let alone two. Granted he missed both his threes last night, but he seemed like he was out there playing with a purpose. Can't wait for what the rest of the season holds for him.

There cannot be enough good things said about Kentan Facey this season. Heading into the season, Ollie needed him to rebound and if he could score here and there then that would be great and so far he has done that and then some. I thought about this last night after the game: Can he be a guy that we go to in the offense? He is still going to get his by getting offensive rebounds and putbacks, but I wonder if Ollie is starting to think if we can involve him a little more in halfcourt sets. He has a good-looking stroke and now he has the confidence that he can play against some elite talent. Once conference play picks up, I think there are going to be some games where Facey could be a legit option in our offense.

DeCarlo: Can we start a Kentan Facey fan club with jackets and membership dues? He's consistently been UConn's best rebounder and he's been a killer on both ends. Check the box scores, even in the losses, Facey is almost always positive in plus/minus. I think he's the best big guy.

Fontenault: We’re finally seeing the top-100 recruit that was the Gatorade Player of the Year in New York two years ago. I am really excited to see where Facey’s career goes from here. He is going to be an important player the rest of this year, and if Diamond Stone ends up choosing Wisconsin over UConn in the spring (sad face), Facey’s play this season has given me confidence that everything will work out.

But I want to end this conversation by talking about where UConn’s season goes from here. This is a team that – were it able to make shots – could easily be 7-1 with two top-10 wins (I’ll still give West Virginia that win in Puerto Rico). Instead, the Huskies are 4-4 for the first time since 1986-87, the last losing season in UConn history (9-19). 

This will not be a losing season, but even if UConn beats Florida and Stanford and wins the American, it may be difficult to earn anything better than a No. 5 or 6 seed. But if that offensive game comes to life, it is UConn, it is Kevin Ollie, and I think UConn can definitely make another deep run.

Gionfriddo: I agree with everything you said there, Tim. It all comes down to making shots and right now we are not able to, but I don't think it's time to hit the panic button yet. If this trend continues in the American, we may want to be a little more worried, but with the way our defense plays, we will be in every game for the rest of the year.