It's no surprise that when Kemba Walker doesn't score UConn struggles. And that was the case Friday in Louisville. The Huskies lost 71-58, fell to 8-6 in the Big East (20-6 overall), and save an early second-half run, the game was never that close.
The issue? As has been the case the last month or so, the match-up zone has given UConn fits. Specifically, defenses focus most of their energy on stopping Walker and his supporting cast doesn't have enough firepower to make up the slack. (Recent exception: Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, who had played lights out prior to the Louisville game, and even in defeat added 16 points against the Cardinals.)
Brent Musburger and Bobby Knight -- the kinder, gentler television version of the former coach -- worked the game for ESPN, and instead of rehashing what most of you saw Friday, I've decided to highlight the nuggets of wisdom imparted by Knight throughout the game. Not surprisingly, the crux of his UConn-related thoughts had to do with their inability to beat the match-up zone.
Before we get to that, a quick refresher of what Coach Jim Calhoun said leading up to this game: "Our problem against Louisville, quite simply, will be the match-up zone. ... The things they beat us on are the things I’m being consumed with … I’ve never been concerned with the match-up. We have to make sure we’re making shots. (Wednesday) we made shots.”
In literature, that's called foreshadowing. To Coach Knight's running in-game commentary:
19:25, 0-0: "Louisville surprises me, there in a zone to start the game."
18:16, 0-0: "That's the third time against this zone that UConn has gotten the ball inside. They've gotten three really good opportunities but haven't been able to score yet."
11:39, 13-6, Louisville: "The middle is where [UConn] has to go, it's the softest part of that [defense]. You bring the big guy out [of the lane], and that's where he can't rebound…" (Editor's note: Coombs-McDaniel promptly scores a reverse layup)
9:58, 15-8, Louisville: "[To beat this match-up zone] I'd keep three people on the baseline, moving in and out of the middle on the baseline, and have my two guards up on top occupying those three [match-up zone defenders] so we could get an overload inside. [Offensively,] UConn is playing a lot with two inside and three outside and I would … just invert that."
7:43, 17-10, Louisville: "There's another example of the UConn offense taking the ball where it didn't need to go -- they took it to the corner and it was already crowded." (Result: turnover)
(Editor's note: With 3:56 to go in the first half, Napier, Coombs-McDaniel, and Walker drain three 3s in a row to cut the lead to 24-19)
3:45, 24-19, Louisville: "[UConn] has gotten those three (consecutive) threes. Louisville has really dominated this game and yet it's just a five-point margin … those three 3s have kept the Huskies in the ball game…"
Start of the second half, 31-23, Louisville: Musberger: "Can UConn find a way to solve this defense?"
Knight: "Well, again, as I said earlier, I think they've got to play three [players] on the baseline moving in and out of the lane, and two up on top occupying those three [Louisville defenders playing match-up zone]. When [the Huskies] bring the big guys out to set a ball screen I don't think that affects anything because the guys with the ball don't need that ball screen to move back and forth against a zone."
18:25, 31-27, Louisville: That's what Connecticut has to do. If they're going to hit the high post, one of those two back guys comes up, then they've got to be able to hit the shot."
(After Roscoe Smith hits a baseline jumper to make it 31-27)
7:20, 54-44, Louisville: Walker again took it into a lot of trouble. We've talked about him being frustrated, not getting many chances to get the open shot but he just went way too deep with the ball that time. … Louisville do a very good job of passing [Walker] off -- Smith has him then Kuric has him…
(After a Walker turnover that results in a Louisville layup)
For the final 10 minutes of the second half, Louisville played less match-up zone and more pressure defense, both full-court and half court. While the scheme was different the results were the same: UConn mistakes and lack of execution resulted in their third loss in seven games. No time to feel sorry for themselves; Marquette is up next Thursday night.