The optimism of two weeks ago has gone missing- so has that heralded Huskies' defense.
For the second straight game, UConn was outmatched and its defense abused as it fell to No. 24 SMU, 80-54 in Dallas on Thursday night. Two weeks removed from the season's biggest win over the Mustangs at the XL Center, a loss should not be much of a surprise considering the circumstances: SMU senior night, chance for them to clinch (a share of) the regular season title with no postseason to play for, and tough road venue.
However, tonight's performance was certainly unsettling in many ways.
Losers of two straight, UConn now sits squarely on the bubble of the NCAA tournament heading into the season finalé on Sunday against UCF at Gampel Pavilion.
The Huskies weathered the early emotional storm, playing to a 16-16 tie with 8:13 to go in the first half. From there things soured- quickly. The Mustangs (25-4, 13-4) went on a 24-6 run, routinely burning UConn inside by taking advantage of Amida Brimah. SMU dominated in the paint (42-12) and on boards (36-30) so much so that head coach Kevin Ollie started freshman Steven Enoch in the second-half over Brimah.
The lineup shuffle had little effect. The Mustangs' lead swelled to 62-40 with 8:06 to go, the largest deficit the Huskies have faced all season. It got worse from there.
UConn (20-10, 10-7) committed 17 turnovers and shot just 34 percent from the floor. SMU shot 52 percent from the field, including 42 percent from three. Sterling Brown scored a game-high 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting while UConn was led by 20 points from Sterling Gibbs.
Offensively the Huskies struggled in the half court. Gibbs continued to be ineffective as the primary ball handler while freshman Jalen Adams finds himself in a shooting slump (4-of-16 last two games). The UConn guards and wings settled for outside jumpers all night. Adams, Gibbs, Daniel Hamilton, Rodney Purvis, Omar Calhoun and Sam Cassell Jr. shot 23 of their 34 shots from beyond the arch. The Huskies allowed SMU to score 18 points off its turnovers, while the flawed offense that has been boosted by the UConn defense, was exposed. Hamilton finished with 12 points, five rebounds and two assists.
UConn heads home with a matchup against UCF looming on Sunday. No longer sure of an NCAA berth, the Huskies need to close the season strong and win a game or two in the conference tournament to solidify itself. They are officially on the edge with time running out.