By Matt McDonough, Associate Sports Editor
Kemba Walker said it himself.
“He slipped and I was open,” Walker said. “It just missed… It looked good but it didn’t go in so it didn’t matter.”
The UConn men’s basketball team, due to missed free throws, lack of interior and perimeter defense, shooting woes or a lack of killer instinct, blew a nine-point second half lead and lost to Louisville 79-78 in double overtime Saturday at Gampel Pavilion. Whatever the reason you want to use, the Huskies lost their first home game of the year and dropped to 5-3 in Big East play.
Walker’s final shot attempt from what seemed like the banks of the Connecticut River, was one of multiple long 3-point attempts. The shot at the end of the second overtime, like the two prior shots UConn took at the end of regulation and first OT period, was off the mark. Walker had a good look and the shot rimmed out. Like Walker said, it doesn’t matter how close it was. Like all sports, basketball is a game of inches and the Huskies gave the Cardinals too many inches, squandered too many opportunities to win on the last shot and let Louisville drive to the basket at will. UConn never should have lost this game.
Did the Huskies know that just a couple weeks ago the Cardinals came back from 18 points with six minutes left? A nine-point lead over Louisville is nothing.
Shabazz Napier, Jeremy Lamb and Roscoe Smith all played well. Napier owned up and took the blame for his missed free throws that could have forced Louisville to tie the score with a 3-pointer rather than a wide-open dunk by a guard in crunchtime. Walker, who finished with 20 points, struggled again, shooting 7-for-23 and 2-for-10 from 3-point range. Had Walker’s desperation last-second shot gone in, it may have been the best buzzer beater of the decade, and the clutch 3-pointer would’ve immediately swung the Player of the Year award from Jimmer Fredette in Utah back to Walker in Connecticut.
Alex Oriakhi only had six points and eight rebounds in 32 minutes as two Cardinal post players sat out with injuries.
Between now and Wednesday, there will need to be a different mindset in the locker room. Unlike last year, one loss can’t turn into three in a row. The Huskies have a great opportunity, with what seemed like everyone in the league losing this weekend, to have a high seed in the Big East tournament.
Fans can’t dwell on the loss either. It’s time to move on and turn the page as No. 10 Syracuse comes to Hartford Wednesday after losing three in a row. The Orange don’t do losing streaks. The XL Center crowd will have to be live. There were positives and negatives from Saturday’s shocker in Storrs, but it’s not worth savoring anything in a losing effort.
Coach Jim Calhoun said he didn’t like what his team showed from the opening tip-off on. Maybe a noon game on a Saturday was too early for a college crowd and a college team. The whole arena seemed sleepy, and at times UConn’s play reflected the atmosphere. But like the Huskies, the crowd eventually woke up and turned into what Calhoun called a great atmosphere.
Unfortunately the No. 23 Fightin’ Rick Pitino’s bettered No. 5 UConn. The Huskies didn’t seem interested in locking up the game– for whatever reason.
Fans shouldn’t let this loss ruin the start of their week. After all, perhaps the reason UConn couldn’t finish off the Cards is because they were doing what students and CT natives should do after this loss: look ahead.