It was going to happen, the only question was when. Most people figured it would come in the season opener against Michigan State. Instead, the Huskies reeled off four wins in a row, climbed to 21st in the polls before losing for the first time under Kevin Ollie.
New Mexico did the honors, beating UConn, 66-60, in the Paradise Jam.
The Lobos led by as many as 10 points in the second half before the Huskies went on their own 10-point run to take the lead with just over two minutes to play. But a 9-0 New Mexico run down the stretch sealed UConn's fate and gave them their first loss of the young season.
"Both teams really fought for three games in four days," New Mexico coach Steve Alford said via the Associated Press. "We've started the season doing a really good job at the foul line. We're getting there often, and we're making them."
A quick glance at the box score shows that both teams were evenly matched from the field (the Lobos shot 40%, the Huskies 43%) and the three-point line (32% and 39%, respectively), but the glaring differences came from the free-throw line. New Mexico was 21 of 21 while UConn was 7 of 9.
“We didn’t make the plays at the end that we’ve been making,” Ollie said via the Hartford Courant. “They got to the line, and we didn’t and that was the ballgame right there.”
Yes it was.
But this is a young team and there's reason for optimism. And it starts with junior guard and team leader Shabazz Napier, who had another big game, this time accounting for 23 points and putting the team on his back late in the second half.
“Shabazz turned it up,” Ollie said, “we need some other guys to contribute. … I don’t want to wait til we’re down 10, don’t want to wait til we’re down nine to start playing.”
Now, after a trip to Germany to open the season and a week in the Virgin Islands, the Huskies will get a few days to catch their breath. They won't play again until Sunday when they host Stony Brook. And the break couldn't come at a better time.
“I’m just really tired right now,” Napier said. “All the traveling, it takes a toll on your body. Playing with the clock forward, the clock backward, that takes a toll. I’m glad to be getting back home and getting into a routine, I need that.”
Ollie, who has been impressive so far, knows that it's a long season. But for now, he's impressed with what his young team has accomplished in this young season.
“Through all the traveling and all the miles, we got to this championship game,” Ollie said. “I’m proud of the guys. This would have been a great win for us, we just came up a little short.”