Somehow, some way, UConn had a chance to force overtime on the final possession of Thursday's game at Memphis. The Huskies got the ball to the hot hand, Daniel Hamilton, and he had a good look, but the ball rimmed out, and the Tigers escaped with a 75-72 win.
Despite the loss, there were positives to be found, especially when considering that Ryan Boatright – while moving into 13th on the all-time scoring list – only scored seven points. The Huskies got a career game out of Hamilton, who finished with 25 points and 13 rebounds, reaching an offensive mark no freshman has hit in a while for UConn.
Per some research by @EdDaigneault and myself, last UConn freshman to score at least 25? Jerome Dyson vs. Syracuse, 27 points on 2/17/07.— Neill Ostrout (@NeillOstrout) February 20, 2015
There was a lot to digest after Thursday's game. Our experts – Tim Fontenault, Matt Gionfriddo and Elan-Paolo DeCarlo broke down the positives and negatives from UConn's loss at the FedExForum.
Tim Fontenault: After the game, Elan sent me a message on Twitter, asking if we are at the point of celebrating moral victories. I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s where I am. This has been a year of building and development for UConn. Several players are playing minutes and roles they were not accustomed to coming into the season. It’s been tough, yes, but it has also been necessary for the longterm success of this current squad, especially with Ryan Boatright graduating.
Here’s my take on last night: They were down by 15. They were getting straight up bullied. Memphis couldn’t miss a shot. Austin Nichols was like, "What ankle injury?" Oh, and Ryan Boatright got hurt in the first half, then he didn’t take a shot in the second half until the under-4 timeout. Yet the game still came down to the final possession and a good look for Daniel Hamilton. At this point, UConn’s not playing for a regular season title and no matter what seed they are, the Huskies are going to compete in the American tournament. But I’m chalking up their fight last night as a moral victory in the rare season where I accept moral victories.
Matt Gionfriddo: Losing this many games this season is difficult to swallow, but we know what we have to do. We could lose out, which I'm not saying is a good thing, but all that matters is that conference tournament. I think Ed Daigneault tweeted something about how these last 6 games are all about what we learn from this team and he's right. We just have to be ready for that week in March.
There are definitely positives that can be taken away from last nights game. Hamilton seemed to really fill up the box score and I'm excited to watch how exactly he played in the 2nd half. We also dominated on the boards with Brimah and Hamilton combining for 25 rebounds which is nice to see, especially with some of the trouble Brimah has had in recent games.
We lost and it sucks but at the end of the day, it is what it is and we move on to the next one.
Also, Kedren Johnson has struggled mightily this year and had his best game of the season by far last night and it's just like ugh come on.
Fontenault: Johnson had one of those games you can't really defend against. It was incredible. Memphis had one of its best days offensively, and you can't put that entirely on defense. Yes, Amida Brimah got bullied by Shaq Goodwin, but people forget he missed a summer of lifting because of his surgery. I'm expecting a different Brimah next year. He played well last night, but imagine a stronger version of him.
Hamilton was ridiculous last night. That was the D-Ham we've been waiting for. If he and Boatright can team up the rest of the way, UConn's got a shot.
My motto for this year is "At least it's not 2010." The 2009-10 season was miserable. I don't expect this team to finish 18-16, but it's stills disappointment by UConn standards.
That said, I think UConn returns better team than the 2010-11 squad next year, even before filling the two empty scholarships.
Elan-Paolo DeCarlo: Hey now what about our young frosh JeanClaudeDanHam? Last night he was the complete package and hopefully a preview of what's to come 30 times next season. He played with confidence and it showed. Putting up 25/13/7 in a road conference game is a big time performance. I loved that KO drew up the final play for him, I just wish it was a better play.
Going forward, the remaining games this season are about getting reps and seeing what works. Tim, you were right to point out the toughness this team showed when down 15. I firmly believed we were going to get blown out. To see them get back into this game, getting a chance to tie at the buzzer, showed fortitude. Hell, even in the last minute they were down 6 or 7 and kept fighting. We just need to to find a way to get this team to play hard, with their backs against the wall for 40 full minutes.
Fontenault: I have one knock against Hamilton right now: He has to slow it down. He's three steps ahead of the play in a bad way. He tries to do things with the ball before he even gets it, and that's where the dumb turnovers come in. If he slows it down, teams will be crying "uncle."
The fight they showed was amazing, but what I want to re-emphasize is that UConn scored 72 points on one of Boatright's quietest nights. If they can combine the team's offense with Boatright's and restrict Rodney Purvis to shots from inside 15 feet, these next few games could be fun.
DeCarlo: Also, going forward can we put an electric fence around the sidelines so Purvis can finally understand he cannot catch the ball there. Enough is enough with that. I think Purvis is really talented and has shown flashes of being a top recruit, but that's buried under a thick layer of inconsistency and carelessness.
Really, I'm at a loss for words. We all know the stakes, we know the situation. We need to get hot in Hartford and run away with the conference tournament. Without that, we're done.
Gionfriddo: That's a great point Tim about our offense. Dorris Burke said something last night about guys needing to keep their aggressiveness when Boatright comes back into games and she's right. Obviously, he cannot do hit himself and I'm pretty sure he doesn't want to do it himself.
The need for the a consistent second scorer has been a major theme this season and we'll see if this game catapults Hamilton into being that. For all we know, he could follow this game up with a shaky performance against Tulane and it wouldn't be that surprising. I know he's a freshman so it's hard to really rely on him as that second scorer, but when he realizes that we really need him, he can be extremely dangerous and then we can be dangerous.
Fontenault: It's weird looking back and remembering that we all used to debate whether Purvis and Hamilton were one and done at UConn. They're both so talented but have inconsistencies in their hand that have hurt UConn time and again. I hope, like you said Matt, that this game establishes Hamilton as the second scorer. Like Shabazz in 2011-12, I think this is his team next year. Is he up for it? These next few weeks can give is an indication.
Gionfriddo: Purvis been incredibly frustrating, but like Hamilton, when he goes, we go. I'm excited for him for next year when he will be an upperclassman and will have more confidence as a leader and a playmaker. I really just think he needs more and more game experience.
The AAC Tournament is going to be a blast. I know people would rather play in Gampel, but we actually play pretty well in XL and the fans in Hartford will bring it with an NCAA Tournament bid on the line.
Fontenault: And honestly – I realize this sounds ridiculous – but finishing sixth gives UConn a better run at the title. Let SMU, Cincy and Memphis kill each other. UConn's toughest tests would be Tulsa and Temple. Yes, both teams beat UConn, but Temple beat a UConn team sans Boatright and Tulsa got a crash course in what happens when you poke the husky. Either side of the bracket is fine in reality. UConn can (and should) beat anyone in this conference.
Gionfriddo: Next season, the offense should run through Hamilton, and I wonder if Last night was an indication of what's to come not only for next season, but for the rest of the year. A couple weeks ago, after a loss, I brought up letting Hamilton loose. That might honestly be our best shot for the rest of the season. Give him the keys and let him go to work!
I probably love the AAC too much but at the end of the day we play in the AAC! The only team I'm scared of right now is SMU but we still get them at XL so that game could really say a lot about our chances against them in the conference tournament. But yes, we can beat anybody.
Fontenault: I phrase it a little differently. I love the American because there are some damn good teams at the top, but at the end of the day, it’s UConn. This is a team that can step to anybody on any night during any season. UConn is in a down year and still nearly stuck it to Duke. Honestly, get SMU into the tournament and I think they’re a threat to go to the Final Four. They are that good. But yes, UConn gets the Mustangs at least once in the XL Center. The Huskies took an early punch and could not recover the other day. If they fight the way they did in Memphis, SMU could have a tough test on its hands.
Gionfriddo: I like your phrase way better.
DeCarlo: The American is sneaky a good conference. I tweeted this last night, but I am glad we aren't in the ACC, at least this year. A discussion about getting into the tournament would seem ridiculous. But really, the American is good, I swear!
Fontenault: The Big East was a new conference once. Granted, those teams were Northeast powers. UConn was their Tulane, but I guess that’s my point, in a way. UConn, Cincinnati and Memphis are established basketball schools. UConn is one of the elites. Memphis was in a championship game less than 10 years ago. Cincinnati is always hanging around. Now SMU is on the rise – like I said, Final Four threat – and Temple and Tulsa have the tools to be very good. I like the ACC example, Elan. Sure, I would like to be playing Syracuse, Louisville, Duke, UNC, Virginia and Notre Dame all the time, but they are also a very weak conference outside the top half.
Gionfriddo: And a lot of the teams in conference are young so the future is bright. Being in a major conference would obviously be ideal, but this conference really isn't that bad. Like we've all said, there are some very good basketball teams in the AAC. #AmericanRising