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January 19, 2012Turning Point
Watching the end of this hectic game, I felt as if I could have started writing three separate times. Before a flurry of missed free throws by Cincinnati and nailed contested threes by UConn, I started writing with UConn down eight points and Cincinnati shooting free throws with 1:35 left to play. UConn seemed to have no opportunity to come back and win the game. Then, the aforementioned free throws and threes came into play. So, technically the turning point occurred with 2.5 seconds left in the game after a three-pointer made by Sean Kilpatrick all but dashed UConn's hopes at a heroic comeback, ending the score at 70-67.
In actuality, the turning point was significantly earlier. Without the craziness at the end, allowing UConn an opportunity to steal a game they absolutely did not deserve to win, the biggest happening occurred with 8:39 left to play in the game. For seven minutes and ten seconds of game time after a layup by Niels Giffey, UConn was held without a field goal. Cincinnati went on an 11-4 run and completely shut down UConn's half-court offense. After playing what was, arguably, UConn's best five-minute stretch of the entire season, UConn took the lead expecting Cincinnati to fold. The opposite occurred; UConn played defense similar to what was played in the first half and was completely outdueled.
What Went Right
From the 16:12 mark until the 10:36 mark, UConn played its best basketball of the season going on a 15-2 run. UConn's defense was stout -- allowing no open looks, forcing turnovers, and blocking shots. In addition, the offense flowed with tough screens, fast breaks, and impressive passing. Giffey and Roscoe Smith played incredibly well during this stretch with very nice cuts and interior passing. As I will discuss later, UConn's fight is unlike the classic Husky teams of the past; however, during this stretch, the team really fought hard, looking like a final four team. I never say that lightly, but it is true. This team shows glimpses of stardom, but they are simply unable string these moments for 15 minutes, let alone 40.
What Went Wrong
Defensively, this team is inconsistent at best. Athletically, they can match up with anyone, but the team's fundamentals are abhorrent. While an incredible on the ball defender, Napier's defense away from the ball is horrific. He is constantly ball watching and leaving his man wide open. When UConn took the lead by two in the second half, twice Napier wandered far away from his man and allowed him to hit an open three. Conversely, Jeremy Lamb, is good away from the ball, but cannot stay in front of his man when dribbling. From a young age, basketball players are taught to slide their feet and stay on their toes; Lamb does neither. With his impressive length, he needs not to cross his feet and stay with the man he is guarding. Many times tonight and this season, he has gotten beat badly, allowing his man to drive right by him. After this occurs, he crosses his feet allowing smaller players to step back and easily take shots over his 7'2" wingspan. This may be from his being tired from playing so many minutes, but this will not get UConn far in the tournament.
With very talented big men, teams will constantly screen to pull Andre Drummond away from the basket. His ability to hedge is atrocious. If he hedges too far, he always fouls the ball handler. When he lacks communication, Drummond leaves his player for an open three.
Lastly, against a team with a four-guard lineup, Drummond and Oriakhi shot a combined 3-16 from the field. These numbers cannot occur if UConn wants to win. UConn does not score easily as is and to have missed layups, dunks, and basic low-post moves missed and botched give the guards too much weight to carry for sustained success.
I am going in a different direction with this section after tonight's game. The decisive matchup tonight was between the two head coaches: Jim Calhoun and Mick Cronin. Cronin knew UConn had the absolute size advantage, so he attacked the Huskies with a four-guard lineup, one that made all of the difference. With Alex Oriakhi and Drummond in the game together for 14 minutes, UConn's scoring differential was terrible. UConn did not pound it down low and Cincinnati allowed their scorers to run off of screens to gain open shots. Playing the 6'4" Sean Kilpatrick at power forward proved to be a huge difference in the game.
In addition, Cronin won the handling of timeouts in the last ten seconds (after Napier's game-tying three). Following an emotional high of tying the game, UConn's final defensive stand was lackluster. In a post-game interview, Cronin commented, "Depending on who had the ball let me choose if I would have called the timeout." Hindsight is 20-20, but UConn should have called the timeout. This would have allowed UConn to set up a defense and prepared the team for a variety of options. Lamb ended up defending the game's defining shot and, as stated before, his on the ball defense does not warrant that.
Three Stars of the Game
1. Niels Giffey - With ten points and six rebounds, Niels had UConn's best all-around game. He defended his man well at all times. Even in the first half when Cashmere Wright and Dion Dixon banked in shots against him, he played stifling defense. He shot the ball confidently and well from deep and made impressive cuts to the hoop, finding himself open for easy layups. Problem with Giffey seems to be that he plays his best during losses.
2. Shabazz Napier - On the stat sheet, Napier appears to be the star. His 27 points and seven assists both led the team. In addition, he took advantage of Cincinnati missed free throws and, nearly, brought the game to overtime with clutch shooting. Still, he did have five turnovers and was horrible defensively. For Wright, a player shooting 39% from the field and 35% from three to shoot 83% and 75%, respectively, during this game is unacceptable.
3. Roscoe Smith - While he only scored four points, Roscoe continued to play incredibly hard and well defensively. Overall, Smith is UConn's best defender as he has the length and quickness to guard on the perimeter and the toughness to fight on the block and for rebounds. He brings a tenacity and toughness to the team that is significantly lacking around him.
Beyond Ryan Boatright's not being allowed to play, seldom-used substitute, Enosch Wolf, was also in street clothes. Apparently, due to a concussion, he was forced to take two exams late and was awaiting grades to be approved. With UConn's current probation and APR score, UConn cannot afford to dress players illegally.
On this date in history, the roof at the Hartford Civic Center (XL Center) collapsed.