Shabazz Napier was sitting there, large ice pack on his left shoulder, pain of various kinds showing on his face.
"I didn't give enough to my teammates," he said. "As a leader, I should have given more. I always feel like I should be giving 100 percent more, even if I'm giving 100 percent."
Giving 200 percent is, of course, impossible, especially with a jammed sore shoulder. For UConn to beat No. 1 Louisville perhaps was not impossible, but it was asking a lot — on Monday night, a lot more than the Huskies could deliver, though they had their moments in the first half.
Louisville smothered UConn in the second half, its top players living up to their reputations, and the Cardinals ran off with a 73-58 victory before 14,287 at the XL Center.
"I don't know what [coach Rick] Pitino said to them, but he must have said something," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said, "They played very, very hard in the second half. They pressed us, and we gave up the basketball. We didn't handle their pressure."
Russ Smith scored 23 points, Gorgui Dieng had 16 rebounds, and Chane Behanan had some of both, 16 points and nine rebounds, for the Cardinals (16-1, 4-0 in the Big East), who learned earlier in the day that they were ranked No.1 in the major polls.
UConn (12-4, 2-2), coming off an upset at Notre Dame on Saturday, had its fans revved up for this game, and flurry of late ticket-buying nearly filled the building. Louisville, unable to get to Hartford on Sunday due to the fog, had to travel on the day of the game, arriving at 2 p.m., and looked a little sluggish. Peyton Siva, the Big East preseason player of the year, picked up two quick fouls, and Napier scored 10 quick points. Late in the first half, Omar Calhoun and DeAndre Daniels had steals and layups on consecutive possessions, giving the Huskies a 29-19 lead with 4:39 left in the first half.
"We did a good job of weathering a Peyton Siva storm with him out," Pitino said. "Once he got back in, we played better offense and defense."
From that point on, the last 24:39 of the game, UConn was outscored 54-29.
Calhoun, who scored 20 points, put in an offensive rebound at the buzzer and UConn took a 34-28 lead into the break, but the momentum had shifted. In the second half, the Cardinals upshifted to a gear the Huskies could not match.
"They definitely picked up their energy," Calhoun said. "They started moving quicker. We didn't fight the way we needed to."
Napier, who injured his shoulder as he hit the ground on a hard foul, said, "We left all our passion and intensity in the locker room. We didn't come to play in the second half."
Turnovers were even at the half, at 7-7. But in the second half, Louisville picked up its vaunted press and forced 10 UConn turnovers, but it seemed like more. During one stretch, the Huskies went 10 consecutive possessions without a score and 9:02 without a field goal. UConn was 7-for-27 from the floor in the second half.
"I want to praise Louisville — they came out with a great effort," Ollie said. "But our guys didn't have that run when they had that run. Most of the time, our guards take the challenge, but in the second half, man-to-man, we didn't take the challenge."
Louisville used Dieng to clog up the middle, hampering UConn's penetration, and Siva and Smith hounded the Huskies on the perimeter. Napier scored 10 points in the first 7:47, but only two after that, his left shoulder perhaps part of it, though he wasn't using it as an excuse. "I got out there," he said.
Ryan Boatright scored 11 quiet points. For Louisville, Siva hit 5 of 6 from the floor and scored 11 in his 22 minutes. The Cardinals, 12-for-30 in the first half, hit 8 of their first 11 shots in the second, and recaptured the lead at 42-41 with 15:30 left, when Behanan completed a three-point play. To cap a long, dominating run, Luke Hancock came off the bench and completed a three-point sequence, then hit a three-point goal to extend Louisville's lead to 60-44 with 6:44 to go.
And that was that. The Huskies, with their quality wins over Michigan State and ND, remain relevant, but were not a threat to the No. 1 team in the Big East and the country. Louisville outrebounded them 36-28 and scored 19 points off turnovers, 17 off the fast break. UConn plays next at Pittsburgh on Saturday and must pick up the pieces.
"You can't control events," Ollie said, "but you can control the meaning of events. … We have to bounce back."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun