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January 5, 2014
Huskies Fall to SMU
In reality, UConn did not play well at all during this game. From the start, UConn's offense was not running with any efficiency. Houston's guards did a fantastic job of forcing Shabazz Napier out of comfortable and one-on-one situation, turning him into a passer. Through 25 minutes, Napier only attempted 3 shots and when he did attempt to set up his teammates, players could not handle passes or finish plays.
With 14:04 left in the game, Niels Giffey layup gave UConn its final lead, 41-40. On the next SMU possession, UConn failed to successfully close out Keith Frazier, leading to a wide open three pointer. On its next possession, Napier took a quick jump shot without anyone down low to rebound. This miss led to an easy run out and layup for Frazier. From this point on, UConn never got the game within three points again.
UConn was unable collect defensive rebounds and, thus, finish off defensive stops, never giving itself a chance. In the final 11 minutes, not once did UConn make three consecutive stops. During the Calhoun era, an impeccably important stat that the Huskies strived for was three straight defensive stops during five different points of the game. This was a recipe for success that UConn has had trouble achieving with its rebounding woes.
What Went Right
During the game, I kept thinking how Lasan Kromah is the best on ball defender since current UConn coach, Ricky Moore. Watching Kromah play defense is a pleasure. He is an absolute pest and incredibly versatile. Even though Nic Moore was the best player on today's court, when Kromah guarded him, Moore was not nearly as successful. Offensively, Kromah played with an assertiveness that the Huskies really needed to see out of Napier
Even in this two game losing streak, Ryan Boatright has popped out of his early season slump. Boatright played very well today and ran the offense effectively. His teammates did not always get the job done around him. Boatright was aggressive in getting to the hole. He did not draw as many fouls, but he did not make poor decisions.
What Went Wrong
UConn's biggest issue stems from a lack of inside presence. I truly believe the problems on this team all stem from this. A few examples:
1. For years, UConn's defensive strategy had quick and aggressive guards gambling and ball hawking on the outside. UConn guards would look for steals and strips, over committing on the ball handler. This strategy funneled guards into the middle towards the Okafors, Boones, Drummonds, Thabeets etc. of the past. UConn guards did not need to follow their man into the paint, but could stay with shooters on the outside to defend kick outs. With this team, UConn's guards do not have this luxury, but have still played this way.
2. There is no question that UConn's guards are some of the most talented in the nation. UConn runs a number of ball screens and pick and rolls. However, without an effective post threat in terms of post moves or catching ability, opponents forwards continually hedge and double team Napier and Boatright. This leaves them little room to work. When they find space, they are forced to make difficult passes. Napier was able to make these passes today, but saw easy buckets missed or dropped.
3. Rebounding continues to be the biggest issue for this team. UConn gave up 15 offensive rebounds today. Some were bad positioning, some poor boxing out, and some poor hands; there were too many reasons that helped lead to this loss. SMU missed 28 shots today and collected offensive rebounds on nearly half (some were on missed free throws, which is even worse).
In addition to these three, UConn cannot find a consistent third scorer. In a game where Napier was ineffective, UConn needed more from DeAndre Daniels, Omar Calhoun or Niels Giffey. Calhoun is in a major slump, Daniels is struggling any time he is double teamed, and Giffey is not attacking the hole to keep defenders honest. A third scorer is not needed every game, but whenever the two stars do not have "A" games, someone else needs to give UConn a chance.
It is not often that UConn gets to play against guards smaller than Napier and Boatright, but today they matched up with Nic Moore. Moore controlled the game offensively, but, more importantly, took Napier completely out of his game. Moore was able to stay completely in front of Napier and did not back away when Napier attempted to create his space with his step back. In an area that UConn expected to take full control, SMU controlled the game.
Three Stars of the Game
1. As noted above, Lasan Kromah played an effective defensive game. He and Boatright truly kept the game in reach throughout the first half. Kromah's assertiveness and energy need to be injected through the rest of the squad. He tips passes, recovers on defenders, and drives to the hole. Even though not a great foul shooter, he attacks the rim and pressures opponents' big men.
2. After a slow start, Ryan Boatright has really begun to come around in the past few games. Even though in foul trouble, Boatright led UConn with fifteen points. He also controlled the ball for much of the game and only had one turnover. Sometimes Boatright does not make the passes to the big men that could help their games develop, but in a close game, is he making the right decision by not giving the ball up?
3. Picking a third "star" from this game is a bit of a stretch, but I guess I will go with Amida Brimah due to his five blocks. Brimah is brining almost nothing on the offensive end, but with such a dearth of strength up front, Brimah's development will be extremely necessary for the end of the season and future years. Simply due to his size, if UConn can mold his defensive positioning and hands, it will open up opportunities for the rest of the team on both ends of the court.
UConn has started its AAC career with an 0-2 clip and finds itself in a very early conference hole.