UConn Falls to WVU

Coach Jim Calhoun spoke about the importance of rebounds before the game. He also stressed the need to get big man Alex Oriakhi involved early.

West Virginia out-rebounded UConn 34-30, and Oriakhi didn't make his first basket until the 4:50 mark of the first half. He scored once more before the break and then wasn't heard from for the rest of the night. And in a critical late-season Big East get-together, the Huskies lost by nine, 65-56.

With one game remaining on the schedule, UConn's hopes of a first-round conference tournament bye are in peril. Despite falling to 9-8 in the Big East, there are some positives to come out of the loss. It's just that Calhoun isn't quite ready to put on his happy face.

"West Virginia won in what I would consider to be Bob Huggins style," Calhoun said. "They out-toughed us. We needed to play physically inside and get some rebounds. We made some very poor choices on offense and we didn't do a good job the whole game of taking away their post play."

The thing is, the Huskies trailed by just two points at the break. Good news: they held seven of the eight Mountaineer players who saw the court in the first half to just 6-for-22 shooting. Bad news: senior guard Joe Mazzulla scored 14 points and missed just one shot.

UConn tried to make it a game for most of the second half, too. But nine consecutive missed shots late was the final nail in the coffin for a team that now faces the very real prospect of playing in the opening round of the Big East tournament.

There is an upside, though: another lights-out performance from a freshman, this time Shabazz Napier. He scored eight points in the first half, which turned out to be just a warm-up.

"We were basically getting bailed out by Bazz hitting tough shots," Oriakhi said. "That's definitely a credit to him, but down the stretch, when they didn't fall, that's when we got in trouble."

"Getting bailed out" meant 10 second-half points, including some clutch mid-range jumpers to keep the game close. But the Huskies couldn't overcome many of the issues that have plagued them in losses this season: problems against the match-up zone, untimely shooting woes and defensive lapses.

That said, Calhoun didn't seemed all that concerned about facing a zone defense. "I'm more concerned with the poor shot selection," he said. "One [possession], I have no idea what [type of defense West Virginia] was in because we came down and shot a 26-foot three-pointer. They could have all fallen down."

"The biggest thing that happened was they had to run a lot of clock to get a good shot," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins added, which parallels Calhoun's remarks. "They seemed like they got a little bit out of rhythm."

The Huskies will face Notre Dame at Gampel Pavilion in the regular-season finale Saturday at 2 p.m. Not only will UConn need to win, they will need some help to get that first-round tourney bye.

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