UConn found a way to make a miserable situation even worse Sunday afternoon.
The Huskies, spiraling out of control all season long, destroyed any tiny chance they had of an at-large bid Sunday with a 70-68 loss to Houston. That's right, Houston, the previously 0-8 Cougars whose losses include Arkansas-Pine Bluff, South Carolina State and (we're not actually a state) East Carolina.
Yea, that Houston.
Ryan Boatright had a career night, scoring 31 points in the losing effort. The only other Husky in double figures was Amida Brimah with 11.
Offense aside, the Huskies, one of the top defensive teams in the American, gave up 70 points to Houston. The Cougars are one of the worst offensive teams in the nation, let alone the conference.
Things are going from terrible to worse for the Huskies. Why is this happening? How can they fix it? What can fans do to help? As always, Tim Fontenault, Matt Gionfriddo and Elan-Paolo DeCarlo try to answer those questions to the best of their ability.
Elan-Paolo DeCarlo: Well, that was not fun. For the second year in a row, UConn went down to Houston for an easy game and came home with a loss. At least last year, they did it while they were ranked. This year, the loss seems to be the nail in the coffin of clinching a bid in the NCAA Tournament. All aboard the conference tournament train.
It's been a simple issue all season. There is no consistent second scorer to Ryan Boatright. He took 28 shots yesterday and frankly, it wasn't enough. He set his career high in points, 31, and it wasn't enough. Rodney Purvis, Omar Calhoun and Daniel Hamilton combined for 12 points yesterday. It wasn't enough.
Matt Gionfriddo: Yeah, I mean that's it, plain and simple: there's no consistent second scorer. Hamilton could not buy a bucket all game. He made some good moves and got into the lane but his floater just would not fall. I'm glad he was aggressive though, because someone besides Boatright needed to be. Rodney Purvis looks absolutely shook right now on the offensive end. Most of the time, he would get the ball, dribble a couple times in each direction without getting any penetration and then pass it to either Samuel or back to Boatright. Clearly, he has not lived up to the hype of the player we thought he would be, but I guess there is still time left in the season for him to improve.
Ryan Boatright's will to win, though, is something that cannot be questioned. By himself, he brought us back into the game and almost won it for us, and that is something that I think all Husky fans can truly admire. Granted, he took 26 shots to get his 31 points, but it was almost like he had to take that many shots because of the lack of productivity from everyone else. I don't know if it is a confidence thing or because these guys are young, or whatever, but obviously we need more. Hopefully, we can figure it out before the AAC tournament in March. If not, it's just going to be the Ryan Boatright show for the rest of the year which could be fun but extremely frustrating.
Tim Fontenault: I was unable to watch the basketball game because I was covering the hockey game (we are a hockey school after all), but a look at the box score tells a story. Like you said, Elan, the people who are supposed to complement Boatright and contribute offensively combined for 12 points. Hell, them combining for 15 points would have been terrible, but even that would have been enough.
And can someone enlighten me as to how in the world Houston, a team that is now ranked 226th in adjusted offensive efficiency, scores 70 points on a team ranked third in a defensive conference in defense? That is pathetic.
I did some reading up on the game last night, and I think Boatright summed it up best. He really does dislike shooting excessively, but it was necessitated. “I feel how Shabazz felt last year some games.” Man, that says it all.
Gionfriddo: I hate to say this, but Pete Gillen kind of nailed it. Our transition defense was not good and has not been good all season. I don't know what the stats are and if they even tell the story, but we have not done a good job stopping the ball on the fast break. When we don't get back, it leads to easy buckets for opposing teams or a trip to the free throw line. I don't know if it is something that has been addressed by the coaching staff, but obviously needs to be. I remember specifically in the Texas game when Demarcus Holland scored eight points off of transition points because we didn't get back on defense, which is something that is pretty unacceptable, especially when you lose by one point.
Other than that, Houston just kept jacking shots for most of the game and didn't really have any offensive flow, so I think we are all as shocked as you are that we let up 70 points.
DeCarlo: It was a really ugly basketball game. I sincerely hope that no one other than UConn and Houston fans watched it. The Cougars just jacked up threes at a remarkable clip and the Huskies could not get out of their own way. There's really not much to say about this game except for the fact that it will live amongst the ranks of UConn's most embarrassing losses.
Where do they go from here? Is it really conference tournament time? Do they even have a chance to win that? It is in Hartford, but look at how this team has played. Can they string together three or four wins in a row?
Fontenault: I know I’m talking to the most optimistic of all UConn fans – and I wish I was that strong, Matt – but I don’t see any good coming out of the rest of this season. Sure, the tournament is in Hartford this year, but it’s not like playing at home has been doing anything to help the Huskies.
There have been years when UConn has missed the tournament, but honestly, this might be the worst UConn team since the Huskies started winning championships. This season has been nothing short of pathetic.
Gionfriddo: Yeah, I mean it's hard to think that we could make the NCAA Tournament with the way we played yesterday. For me, it is now one game at a time and that's it.
It'll be interesting to see how Boatright and Ollie handle this adversity. By no means do I think that they will quit on the season and I don't expect anyone else on the team to either. We have really hit rock bottom, and there's a good chance that this team will start to become closer than ever. There could be a "us against the world" mentality within the locker room, and sometimes that could be for the best.
I know fans are in a tough spot, but this is still UConn Basketball. We still have a rich tradition like no other in the past 15 years, and Husky fans should still absolutely come out and support these kids, especially against Memphis, SMU, and Tulsa. The NCAA tournament is really staring to look lost, but the rest of the season isn't. We still have 10 games left before the conference tournament, and while we may not make the NCAA Tournament, there is still some good that can come out of the rest of the season. Everyone besides Boatright will be back next year, so the development of our players for the rest of the season could be key for next season.
Fontenault: I agree that people need to continue supporting the team. It gets really frustrating when Connecticut gets fair-weather about the Huskies and abandons them to their fate.
In years past, even when the Huskies have been at its worst, even when they appeared lazy and disinterested, they fought. I think about the 2011-12 season, one that we all remember for being famously miserable. Remember how hard they fought at Madison Square Garden? They made it to the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament through sheer force of will. They barely snuck in to the NCAA tournament as a result. It’s amazing what can happen in college basketball.
Gionfriddo: Absolutely, sometimes teams are at their best when their backs are against the wall.
This conference tournament should really be something in Hartford. I expect the environment to be the best that it has been all season (excluding Gampel games), because as fans, we have our backs against the wall too, and I'm sure I speak for a lot of people when I say that we will be trying to will UConn to victory from our seats. I don't know if UConn will win the AAC tournament, but you just never know what a team can do on it's home court, especially with a "win or go home" mentality.
Fontenault: Ideally, they can do more than Memphis in that same situation.
Gionfriddo: True although Memphis was going to get in the NCAA tournament regardless. I just hope Hartford and the Huskies bring it that weekend.