Storrs-- That's all she wrote folks. The UConn Huskies were eliminated from the NIT tonight by Arizona State. The Sun Devils took a 16 point lead in the 2nd half. Although the Huskies were able to rally to tie, they could not get over the hump. The Huskies missed five of their final six shots down the stretch, falling 68-61. UConn finishes the season 20-15. It was a disappointing year, to say the least.
Without Ryan Boatright in the lineup due to injury, combined with it being the NIT, this game felt blah. Gampel Pavilion was nowhere near capacity, don't let the reported attendance of over 6,000 fool you. With students on spring break, the gym was sparsely filled with casual fans. This seemed like a fitting epilogue to what has been a truly forgettable year.
The loss moved UConn's record to 4-4 at Gampel this year, their worst ever in the building.
"We lost four games within 10 seconds. It's not like we're in a pit. Ten seconds if they go our way, we're in the NCAA tournament. There were a lot of games where we lost right at the end," coach Kevin Ollie said. "It is what is, that's the fine line. Those are the inches you gotta fight for as a coaching staff, as a program, as players. It's right there, the difference between being in the NCAA tournament and not."
Tonight was Ryan Boatright's final time taking the court as a member of the UConn Huskies. For the first time in his career, he missed a game due to injury. UConn's 8th highest scorer of all time, Boatright leaves behind a legacy filled with great moments. He is a champion and deserves to have his number 11 hanging amongst the Huskies of Honor.
"UConn is forever a part of me. This will always be a second home. Whenever I get a chance to come back up here, help the team, help kids, help Coach with camps, I'll definitely be here to do it," Boatright said.
As for the game itself, Rodney Purvis and Daniel Hamilton played well. Combining for 35 points on 15-32 from the field, they offered a solid vision into the future. As these two have grown and matured over the course of the season, fans should feel confident that they will be able to shoulder the scoring burden next season.
Both players talked about how much work they still need to put in over the summer. Hamilton discussed his need to get stronger and improve his ball handling, while Purvis was more general. And more blunt.
"I can become a better playmaker, create for others more. Just be a bette basketball player," Purvis said. "This summer, I'm gonna work my you-know-what off, so I can be that player next year."
There were bright moments tonight, like there were all season long. But as this season proved, tonight was a dead end. UConn fought hard to advance to the 2nd round of the NIT, but ASU's 16 point 2nd half lead proved to be too much. The comeback fell short.
The future of this program is unknown. Without Boatright, there is no clear cut favorite. The starting 5 for opening day is still up in the air. Ollie may have his fair share of skeptics. This was a transitional year and it may continue. For now, all that's left to do is commiserate together.
On a personal note, thanks for reading and commenting all year. For me, it was a blast covering this team. The players were fun to talk to and get to know. Boatright is everything you could ask for out of a senior captain. From the Duke game at Izod, to the conference tournament at XL to that ridiculous arena in Bridgeport, this gig has allowed me to follow UConn across the tristate. Really appreciate everyone who did read and who did comment and tweeted encouragement and jokes and criticism. I read it all, good, bad and ugly.
We'll have more coverage on UConn's season here on the blog. I'm sure Tim, Matt and I will do a few more discussions. We'll break down what was good, what went wrong and how next year will look. But that's for another day.