For UConn, it certainly was “Black Friday”.
Keith Clanton scored 20 points and UCF closed the game on 35-13 run as the Golden Knights knocked off No. 4 UConn 68-63 in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis. Marcus Jordan added 16 points, seven boards and seven assists for UCF.
Its a big win for the Knights, who have enough talent on their roster to compete for the Conference USA crown. The concern coming in was how this group was going to mesh. They started out last season with 14 straight wins, but collapsed during league play. There was some roster turnover, as head coach Donnie Jones also brought in a vaunted crop of transfers, but the memories of UCF’s late-season collapse and the cloud cast over the program by the current NCAA investigation the trendy, overrated pick in their league.
One game is not enough to sway the doubters, but this is a win that should put the rest of the conference — particularly Memphis, who just had a disastrous trip out to Maui — on notice.
The biggest story here, however, was UConn’s play.
With the score 50-33 and 16 minutes remaining, the Golden Knights switched to a zone and it completely flummoxed the Huskies. UConn managed just seven points over the next 13 minutes — shooting 28.6% from the floor and turning the ball over eight times — while allowing UCF to score on 16 of their next 22 possessions. Frankly, UConn was utterly clueless against the zone, and those offensive frustrations led to defensive apathy.
There are a number of issues at play here. For starters, Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb, who played like the best back court in the country for the first two weeks of the season, need to be more aggressive offensively. They combined to shoot 7-23 from the floor and 2-13 from beyond the arc while turning the ball over ten times, settling for far too many deep threes off the dribble. Jim Calhoun needs one of those to to step-up and be more aggressive when UConn is struggling, zone or no zone.
One of them has to want to be the guy that replaces Kemba Walker as the star of this team, not just as the leading scorer. UConn doesn’t have the killer instinct yet. As Calhoun said after the game, in past games “we’d go up 20, but it didn’t go to 30, it went to 10. A pattern. Today, got up 17 and it went to a loss.”
Another issue is the Husky front court. While Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond finally played like the kind of front line we have expected them to be all season long — they combined for 27 points, 19 boards (11 offensive) and nine blocks — they also missed a number of point black shots and only got to the line nine times, which isn’t enough considering how much time those two spend around the rim.
There is plenty of talent in Storrs, but UConn has a long way to go before they are truly an elite team.
Perhaps this loss is for the best. UConn may have needed a wake-up call. This was it. You think Jim Calhoun will get their attention during their next practice?