Hartford, CT-- All afternoon, points came at a premium. Both sides struggled to put the ball through the hoop, the ultimate goal of the game. Combining to shoot 40-114, UConn and Temple gave new meaning to the phrase 'offensive futility.'
Yet, as is the case in all walks of life, it was the 'when' that mattered the most. Down the stretch in regulation, it seemed like UConn was the team in control. Trailing 51-45 with 1:51 to play, the Huskies dug deep to tie the game. A layup by Terrence Samuel, two made foul shots from Daniel Hamilton, and a fast break dunk by Rodney Purvis, coupled with some big missed foul shots from Temple, gave the Huskies life. The XL Center crowd was loud and appreciative, the Huskies were flying around, and the game seemed to be ripe for the picking.
Then, the overtime started, and the points dried up. In the extra five minutes, UConn scored only 2 points. They shot 1-5 from the field, 0-1 from three point range, and a disastrous 0-4 from the foul line. With the game on the line, trailing by 2 as the seconds ticked away, Hamilton rose for a three and was hacked. He stepped to the line with a chance to give UConn a much needed last second victory.
He missed all three free throws.
Following the game, much of the conversation revolved around Hamilton's big misses. Coach Kevin Ollie said, "Daniel will get through it. Things happen, in basketball and in life. He's going to get better from this."
It must be noted, Hamilton had a nice game this afternoon. He finished 10 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists. Had it not been for Hamilton, UConn would not have even reached OT, so do not go bashing the freshmen for coming up short.
The problems around the team during the game went beyond those last second free throws. "The game came down to execution. We didn't do a good job on offense down the stretch," Ollie said.
That would be putting it kindly. The Huskies made 22-57 from the field, good for 38.6%, with just 1-9 from three point range. This was a far cry from the performances they had put up against Columbia and Central Connecticut.
One factor; the absence of Ryan Boatright. Late in the first half, Boatright looked like he tweaked something in his leg. Then, at the very start of the second half, he asked to be taken out of the game. He would not return. Early reports are that he had a deep thigh contusion. His status for Saturday's game at Florida is unknown. Boatright, the leading scorer in the American Athletic Conference at over 19 ppg, was held in check in the first half, scoring only one basket.
"I can't fault these guys for anything. They went fought hard to get themselves back in the game at the end," Ollie said. "We just have to play through the ups and downs. There's going to be ups and downs with this team."
This makes the third "late" game loss for the Huskies. Unlike Texas and Yale, this was not a case of getting beat by a last second shot, but a situation where an inexperienced team could not execute down the stretch. Ollie even said he was forced to reduce the playbook in order to simplify the offense. Even that wasn't enough.
Aside from Hamilton, only Amida Brimah scored in double figures for the Huskies. Temple entered today with a top 35 defensive KenPom ranking. They lived up to the the part. The Husky defense was up to the task, holding the Owls to 31.6% shooting. That type of defensive effort has to be rewarded, but it was wasted today.
The loss drops UConn to 6-5 on the season, and an 0-1 record in AAC play. This was a tough one to drop, especially looking forward. The AAC will struggle to send numerous teams to the NCAA Tournament, and every game going forward is vital. This could look bad in a few months.
Connecticut is next in action Saturday to take on the Florida Gators, in a rematch of last year's National Semifinal.
Have a Happy and healthy New Year everyone! Thanks for reading and commenting, it's been a pleasure. Let's see what the Huskies have in store in for us in 2015!