Storrs- Most seasons, UConn is the clutch team. Usually, they have the players that make those big shots, those buzzer beaters that are replayed for decades. Ray Allen's crazy leaner against Georgetown, Richard Hamilton against Washington, Kemba at Madison Square Garden and Shabazz against Florida.
Ryan Boatright had his opportunity to put a clip like that in the montage. With 8.1 seconds remaining, he took the ball up the floor. The stage was set. He rose. He put it up. He was hit.
The ball bounced around and off the rim.
This season, this rotten, horrible, terrible, no good nightmare hangover of a season, the Huskies are finally on the wrong end. For the third time, UConn (17-12, 10-7 AAC) was beaten by a shot in the last 10 seconds of the game in Gampel Pavilion. At 4-3, this is UConn's worst season at Gampel. How fitting. Memphis' Shaq Goodwin did the honors this time hitting a 10 foot jumper from the left side of the lane.
This was a different team than the one that showed up in Hartford against Southern Methodist on Sunday. In that game, UConn shot 53% and had 14 assists. Tonight, they managed to shoot just 28% from the field. "We forgot what we did against SMU," coach Kevin Ollie said. "We didn't move the ball around and took too many ill advised shots."
The night started with so much promise. It was Senior Night for Boatright, Pat Lenehan and Dan Guest. The three were presented with framed jerseys pre game and the crowd was in a tizzy before the opening tip. The Tigers jumped out to a 12-2 lead, with two thunderous dunks silencing the crowd. The Huskies were able to stabilize halfway through the first and late in the half, Boatright single handedly propelled them to a tie. In the final 1:36 of the half, Boat converted three free throws, a transition and-one layup and generated a two foul shot for Daniel Hamilton, which he hit. He struggled some tonight, finishing with 16 points on 5-16 from the field, 2-9 from three, and 8 rebounds. At times, he lacked aggression and passed up many open looks. Ollie, in fact, screamed at him to "be aggressive." Although he led the team in points and rebounds, this was a rough game from Hamilton.
At times, this game resembled an old school Big East tilt. The first half particularly was chippy anh physical. Amida Brimah was a dominant presence defensively, blocking six shots in the first half. On one, he sent a Memphis player sprawling on the floor. Later in the half, Rodney Purvis went up for a layup and was absolutely bundled by Calvin Godrey. He went down hard into the basket support, and Godfrey was given a Flagrant 1 foul. After that, the refs began calling the game much tighter and it had an effect down the stretch. They began calling light touch fouls on UConn in the final two minutes.
In crunch time, the Huskies once again came up short. They took a 53-52 lead with 2:09 play following a big time pull up floater from Hamilton. A defensive stand from the Huskies gave them a chance to put the game away, but they had one of their worst possessions of the season, leading to a shot clock violation. With 23 seconds to play, Memphis took a timeout and drew up a play for Goodwin. He executed. UConn didn't. For the third time this season. "We just have to get a stop late. We have to play better. Play smarter," Ollie said about his team's late game struggles. "Those are the times we have to buckle in and stay mentally tough. We haven't been able to do that."
Goodwin's shot went down with 8.1 seconds left to play. Enough time for Boat. But the shot didn't fall. "I just didn't take a good shot. I could have gotten a better shot, I just made a bad decision," Boatright said.
This was a crushing loss for UConn. In their post game press conferences, both Ollie and Boatright were as down as I've seen them this year. Boatright, particularly, looked physically and emotionally spent. The loss cements UConn's fate. If they want to get into the NCAA Tournament, they will have to win the AAC Tournament. "We know what we gotta do. We've known the last three games. It all comes down to that tournament," Boatright said.