Huskies men's basketball team lets one slip away
As the crowd came to its feet, A.J. Price’s carried him over halfcourt and deep behind the 3-point line.
With the clock ticking toward zeros and the UConn men’s basketball team down three points to No. 19 Gonzaga Saturday in The Hartford Hall of Fame Showcase, the junior guard pulled up 25 feet out from the basket, shot and as the final buzzer went off, watched the ball hone in on the right side of the rim and bounce off, just not quite where it hoped to be.
The Huskies are finding themselves in a similar spot.
With its 85-82 loss to the Bulldogs in front of packed TD Banknorth Garden crowd, UConn (5-2) failed to garner the signature win it has been looking for the last two seasons, its defense faltering late and many of its shots doing the same as it fell to a ranked team for the second time this season.
“We gave away a tremendous opportunity in my opinion,” said a clearly frustrated UConn coach Jim Calhoun, who kept his comments short and biting. “The whole second half we’d make three good plays and four bad ones. Whether we led, (were) down, it didn’t make any difference. It’s best I don’t say how I feel.”
Jeremy Pargo, named the games’ MVP, led all scorers with a season-high 23 points, Matt Bouldin added 19 and Micah Downs finished with a double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds) for Gonzaga (7-1), which completed its East Coast swing through Philadelphia and Boston a perfect 2-0 still down its best player.
The Huskies, meanwhile, shot less than 38 percent from the field while forcing just nine turnovers. Price led four Huskies in double figures with 22 points, including Jeff Adrien (15 points, nine rebounds) and Jerome Dyson (19 points).
But several times late, Pargo was allowed to sink uncontested lay-up after uncontested lay-up en route to eight points in the final 4:17, and the Huskies struggled to get a stop on any Bulldog.
“We need to find ourselves defensively again,” Price said. “Last year, it really was our anchor because we couldn’t score the ball offensively, but now that we’re scoring offensively, our defense is nowhere near where it was last year. It’s not just one guy, one player specifically, it’s a team thing.”
“Coming together basically” is what is keeping UConn from winning these types of games, Stanley Robinson said. “We’re 10 times better than that team, but I give praise to them, they came out and played great.”
UConn came out firing in the first half, knocking down 7-of-16 3-pointers over Gonzaga’s zone to take an early 10-point lead, 24-14, despite having several players in foul trouble.
But that seventh and final one, a Price dagger, came with 8:43 to play, and the Bulldogs slowly cut climbed back, taking their first lead, 45-44, when David Pendergraft floated in a 3 as time expired.
That became a six-point Gonzaga advantage moments into the second half, but after tying it twice over the next six minutes, UConn took a four-point lead at 67-63 when Adrien knocked down a three-foot jumper with less than 10 minutes to play.
Bouldin, held to two points in the first half, then scored nine straight over the next three minutes, restoring a Gonzaga lead that would float between one and three points before ballooning to four at 82-78 with less than 30 seconds left.
Price came back, getting hit on the hand as he shot a 3-pointer and keeping his follow-through, but the ball hit off the backboard and came out, negating a chance at a four-point play, and the junior made two of three free throws.
“That (3-pointer) I actually thought was going in,” Price said.
Two Austin Daye free throws were followed by a Price lay-up, and the Huskies fouled Daye again, putting the freshman at the line with 4.2 seconds left. An 88 percent free throw shooter for the year, he knocked down the first but missed the second, giving Price the chance to force overtime with the buzzer-beater that didn’t fall.
Still playing without Josh Heytvelt (ankle surgery) until Christmas, Gonzaga managed to keep the rebounding battle close, 39-34 in favor of UConn, a team that Gonzaga coach Mark Few called “the most physical team in the country.”
“It seems like they (my players) are fairly resilient,” said Few, whose team won at St. Joe’s Thursday, four days after returning from the Great Alaskan Shootout. “This was a hard trip.”
For the Huskies, it seems they have a difficult road ahead as they try to recoup from what clearly was a crushing loss.
“When they (Gonzaga) get their big kid back, he’s a terrific player, I’ve seen him play, they’re going to be a fine basketball team,” Calhoun said. “Right now, they’re a very good one and we’re not.”
Reach Matt Stout at 425-4250 or email@example.com