Hartford-- What started as a dream weekend ended in a nightmare for the Huskies. UConn was unable to complete what was looking like another dramatic comeback against SMU, falling 62-54. The loss will likely mean that the defending national champion will miss the NCAA tournament for just the 5th time since 2000, the third defending champion to miss the tournament since 2010.
"We didn't it away, they came and took (the championship)...I thought our guys fought again, but we can't fall behind by 17 to a team like this. To come back at the end you have to play perfect basketball. I'm so proud of our guys," coach Kevin Ollie said.
This was a game where UConn was physically over-matched, almost from the start. SMU's bigs, Markus Kennedy, Yanick Moreira and Ben Moore combined for 36 points and 17 rebounds. They were able to control the paint and forced UConn's big men into foul trouble early. Amida Brimah picked up a quick one and was sent to the bench. With 7:32 left in the first half, Brimah and Phil Nolan each had two fouls and Rakim Lubin had three. UConn was able to neutralize them in the second half, but the damage was done.
This was not a good time for Ryan Boatright to have the worst game of his career. He finished with 5 points on 1-12 shooting, 1-9 from three point range. Boatright, who was named to the All-Tournament team following the game, also fouled out late. It was a sad ending for Boatright, who likely walked off UConn's home floor for the last time. "I was disappointed in my play. I missed a lot of shots that should be easy knock down shots for me," he said. "I just didn't show up and be the player I know I can be, I can be better than that."
With Boatright struggling, it was Rodney Purvis' time to step up. He was spectacular throughout, but in the second half especially, he took it upon himself to bring the Huskies back. At one point, he attacked the basket on four consecutive possessions, each ending in either a made layup or free throws. He would finish with a career high 29 points. He hit some clutch threes, but his attempts were futile.
Following the game, the Huskies knew they had lost their opportunity to reach the NCAA tournament. It was a dejected and emotional post game session. "We just got to work hard over the summer. Guys that are coming back hopefully this hurts them and lights a fire under them, including me, so we get better and never have to witness this feeling again," Purvis said.
The NIT likely awaits this UConn team. Like with everything, Ollie maintained his usual stance of optimism and poise for his team.
"You put on a UConn jersey. If you can't get geared up, then I don't want you on my team," he said. "It's postseason play. You lose, you go home. That's what you get out of it, it's experience."
Boatright echoed his coach's feelings. "It's UConn, this is Connecticut. No matter what we playing in, no matter what we're doing, we win games. We win championships. Whether it's the tournament, the NIT. We in it, we're going to win it," he said.
This one hurts. Going forward, this team has more postseason games ahead. But we all know it just isn't the same.