It took 10 games, but the 10th-ranked Huskies finally lost, falling Wednesday night in Hartford to Stanford, 53-51. It was a tale of two halts as UConn dominated the first 20 minutes and led by as much as 13 points before the Cardinal began chipping away at the lead.
Then, in the closing seconds and the Huskies trailing by two, Shabazz Napier had the ball in this hands with a chance to win it ... and he passed it to Omar Calhoun for a long-range three that had little chance of going in. It was the rare occurrence to see Napier and UConn falter with the game on the line, but this could also been one of those games the team looks back on in several months as a wakeup call. For now, the loss just hurts.
"We didn't have the toughness to win this game tonight," coach Kevin Ollie said, "mentally or physically. … Once they smelled they could play with us, they took it to us."
For an idea of just how different things were in the second half, UConn made just 5-of-31 shots, and didn't make a single three in 12 attempts. By contrast, they converted 6-of-10 looks from three in the first half. The struggles from downtown extended to the usually capable Napier, something Ollie mentioned after the game.
"I wanted Shabazz to attack the basket," the coach said, "we live with that because he has put us on his back a lot. But he settled for those long threes and they weren't going in, so you have to make adjustments. We didn't make that game-winning adjustment tonight."
Part of that adjustment was to Stanford's zone defense, which proved a nuance for long stretches. And the Huskies' inability to hit from the perimeter gave the Cardinal no reason to come out of their zone, either.
"Just a tough shooting night," Ollie conceded. "I can't even blame it on the layoff. We came out, we played well, had a 10-point lead at halftime. Came back in the first three minutes and pushed it up to 13 and then, like we've been doing, we play in spurts and we let the team back in. Once they smelled that they can play with us, they took it to us. ...
"It wasn't hard at all (to recognize that Stanford was going to play zone defense)," the coach continued. "We missed shots. We had open shots. And then we took some ill-advised threes....It was a simple zone. ... It was all settle for jump shots. When that happens, you start missing them, start pressing a little bit, and that's what happened. "
Stanford, meanwhile, came to the XL Center unranked and looked out of sorts for the early part of the game, but got it together well enough down the stretch for a big road win against a good opponent. Chasson Randle scored 22 points to lead all scorers while DeAndre Daniels had a team-high 15 points for UConn.
Napier echoed much of what his coach said and then took blame for his performance down the stretch.
"In the second half we just had a terrible shooting display," the senior guard said. "We didn't get it done in the second half and it kind of came down to the wire. I wasn't able to knock down a shot. None of us were actually able to knock down a shot.
"I'm kind of upset the way I played in the second half, the way I ran my team in the second half. I really felt like this was going to be a good win for us, and I didn't come through. All I can do is learn from it, not put too much blame on myself like I usually do, and just take it and understand what I could have done better and move along."