It would be easy to look at UConn’s loss to Houston at Hofheinz Pavilion on Tuesday and write it off as the Huskies having a bad night.
It was a late tip on New Year’s Eve way out in Houston in an arena that may not have held enough people to fill my old 600-seat high school gym. For a program that’s used to playing their leagues games in places like the Carrier Dome and against teams like Louisville and Pitt and Georgetown, that’s not exactly and easy game to get fired up for.
Maybe that’s why they dug themselves a 46-25 hole in the first half, and maybe that’s why they erased that deficit once Shabazz Napier woke up and put on a 25-point second half display.
But writing off No. 17 UConn’s eventual 75-71 loss to the Cougars as a simple problem of motivation would make you ignore the fact that the Huskies are a flawed basketball team.
“I told them [at halftime] you have to play with heart,” Ollie told Don Amore of the Hartford Courant. “Our best player [Shabazz Napier] has to set the tone, he has to come out and play, he can’t have two points. DeAndre Daniels has to come and play. Our starters have to play, that’s why I changed the starting lineup. We have to figure out something. That’s my job as a head coach, to figure it out.”
Simply put: their front court is going to be at a disadvantage every night for the rest of the season. Amida Brimah is a very good shot blocker, but he’s not strong enough to deal with good low-post players and his footwork is nowhere near good enough to matchup with a face-up big man like Tashawn Thomas. Phil Nolan and Kentan Facey don’t look like they’re ready to play this level of basketball just yet. Tyler Olander is, well, Tyler Olander. He’ll give you decent minutes, but the senior is what he is.
There are going to be times where UConn plays with a front line of Deandre Daniels and Niels Giffey. Oy.
Then there’s the issue of balance.
Look, there is a reason that Shabazz Napier is still sitting near the top of any Player of the Year ranking that is worth you paying attention to. He’s been terrific this season. He’s won games single-handily, but that is only going to get UConn so far without help from their supporting cast. The problem? Ryan Boatright, Daniels, and Omar Calhoun are about as streaky and unreliable offensively as you can be.
There’s a reason why every possession late in games features Napier trying to find a way to create an open shot. That’s why the ball is always in his hands.
And he’s good enough that he’s going to win UConn some games.
But take a closer look at the games UConn has won. Maryland has been anything but impressive this season. Indiana hasn’t, either. Boston College stinks. That win over Florida is nice, but it came on a fluky buzzer-beater at UConn in a game where Florida was dealing with injuries to both of their point guards.
Was Tuesday really just an example of why you need to be ready to play every single night, or was it a sign that these Huskies have a long, long way to go?
UConn pays a visit to SMU and Larry Brown on Saturday afternoon. I have a feeling we’ll have a better understanding then.