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No. 19 UConn’s offense continues to struggle in embarrassing road loss at No. 11 Louisville

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As No. 19 UConn struggled mightily in its 81-48 loss at No. 11 Louisville on Saturday, it continued on a recent trend that the Huskies have been going through.

UConn (24-7, 12-6) simply can’t score on a consistent basis if any of their main three weapons are having an off-night, and lately, that’s definitely been the case. The Huskies are averaging a little over 73 points a game this season but they’ve failed to crack 70 points its last six games and haven’t done it since a February 15th overtime win over Memphis.

Shabazz Napier is playing heavy minutes during that stretch — at least 37 minutes in UConn’s last five games before 34 minutes in the Louisville loss — and finally had an off-day against the Cardinals, but the senior point guard needs more help from Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels and his Huskies teammates if UConn wants to make a postseason run.

Napier and Boatright combined for 14 points on 4-for-24 shooting from the field in the loss to Louisville (26-5, 15-3) on Saturday while Daniels finished with 17 points. The UConn backcourt duo of Napier and Boatright usually averages just over 30 points per game.

RELATED: Our latest bracket projections — is your team in?

Boatright, a junior guard, and Daniels, a junior forward, both average just over 12 points a game this season but have gone cold over the recent six-game stretch.

Boatright has shot 18-for-62 from the field over the six-game stretch while Daniels has only averaged 8.6 points a game while failing to crack double-figures in four of those games.

Connecticut could try to turn to other options, but Niels Giffey is rather one-dimensional as a shooter on the offensive end while Lasan Kromah provides a lot of energy but isn’t necessarily a guy that can create on his own.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Huskies also have to miss the production of sophomore guard Omar Calhoun, who is going through one of the worst sophomore slumps in America. The 6-foot-6 Calhoun had a respectable freshman season, averaging 11.1 points in 32.1 minutes on 40 percent shooting, but after scoring in double-figures the first three games of the season, Calhoun has only done that twice since then as he hasn’t registered a point since a February 6th loss to Cincinnati.

Calhoun hasn’t scored in the last seven games he’s appeared in, a span that totals 49 minutes of playing time. The sophomore is averaging 4.5 points in 15.1 minutes while shooting 31 percent this season.

So without a lot of other options to turn to, UConn really needs Boatright and/or Daniels to get rolling as the postseason begins next week or the Huskies could be in serious trouble.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.