— As the final minutes wound down, Kevin Ollie could only watch as the other team dunked backward, hung on the rim and hit wide-open shots from the perimeter.
Ollie, as engaged in coaching and energetic as any man could be, could only sit with his hand on his chin and watch. He had lost games before, but never in his two years as UConn's head coach had he ever looked beaten.
And never in Ollie's two years as coach, nor, in fact, in many years have the Huskies been beaten like this, the way Louisville beat them 81-48 before 22,782 at the KFC Yum! Center, on national TV, in the regular season finale Saturday afternoon.
"We were a bad-coached team," Ollie said, "and I'm the first one, I'm on the front line. We weren't ready to play."
No. 19 UConn was unable to score against No. 11 Louisville's extended zone defenses, unable to stop Montrezl Harrell, who had 20 points and 11 rebounds, unable to do much of anything right against the defending national champs, who, characteristically, are playing their best basketball with the postseason at hand and won a share of the American Athletic Conference title. UConn (24-7) tied for third in the league at 12-6 and goes into the postseason off its most one-sided loss in 21 years and a series of subpar shooting performances. The Huskies will play Memphis, the host school, in the AAC tournament on Thursday at 9 p.m.
"We're at the bottom right now," Ollie said. "This is the worst we could ever play. The season is not over yet, but I told [the players], if we play like this, we have two games left and then they can go on spring break."
Louisville (26-5, 15-3) honored its seniors before the game, then jumped out to a 17-5 lead and frolicked like it was spring break. UConn shot dismally, 15-for-51 and 3-for-22 on three-point attempts, and had 22 turnovers. Shabazz Napier (2-for-13) and Ryan Boatright (2-for-11) were out of sync, and the futility eventually spilled over to the defensive end, where Louisville was 26-for-58 and 10-for-22 on threes.
What went wrong?
"Everything," Napier said. "We just didn't keep our composure, and the result was us being embarrassed."
Said Boatright: "Just a terrible shooting night. Me and 'Bazz shot the ball terrible and had too many turnovers. We didn't play well in any aspect."
Russ Smith scored only three points for the Cardinals but had 13 assists. On his effective distribution, Luke Hancock scored 16, hitting four three-pointers, and Wayne Blackshear scored 11, hitting three threes. Whenever Louisville missed a shot, Harrell, who dominated UConn in the Cardinals' victory at Gampel Pavilion on Jan. 18, destroyed the Huskies in the paint. Though UConn had a 40-39 edge in rebounds, the Huskies could not ignite their fastbreak, never scoring a single point to the Cardinals' 15 in transition.
"In the beginning, they punched us in the face and we didn't fight back," said DeAndre Daniels, who, with 17 points and eight rebounds, was the Huskies' only productive player. "They outhustled us."
Louisville has won eight of its past nine against UConn, including eight in a row in regular season games, the most dominant stretch any opponent has had against the Huskies since the early Big East days. UConn has had nothing but misery in Lousiville since 2006, including an NCAA Tournament loss to Iowa State in Jim Calhoun's final game.
In Ollie's two seasons, 61 games, as coach, the Huskies have lost only four games by double digits, but three have been to Louisville. This was the most one-sided loss for UConn since a 90-57 defeat against St. John's on Feb. 1, 1992. UConn has not lost by more than 33 points since 1977, against Syracuse.
"I didn't see anything like this coming," Ollie said, "And I'm glad it came, because now we know how tough we have to be to be a champion. That's a champion over there. We weren't tough enough; we weren't together enough. Louisville saw weaknesses and exploited every last one of them."
UConn did not get a field goal until Daniels' jumper 6:36 into the game and finished the half 5-for-25 from the floor, 0-for-8 on three-point attempts. Napier and Boatright were a combined 0-for-12, and the only thing keeping the Huskies even remotely in it were Daniels, who had eight points and five rebounds, and the Cardinals' five missed free throws.
"We played a matchup, trapping zone, and it was tough to score against us," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "We took away the three-point shot completely. … [It was] a pretty special defensive performance."
By halftime, Louisville led 30-18 and had all of UConn's centers in foul trouble. UConn made a brief run early in the second half, Napier finally hitting a three, and got within five, but the Cardinals again just had too many answers. They ran it back up to 15 points. Blackshear's three made it 49-32 with 12:21 left, and they won going away.
"We have to play better, and it starts with effort," Ollie said, "I have to coach better; I have to get the guys prepared better. We have Harrell dunking backwards, hanging on the rim. We have Hancock shooting open threes, yeah, that's effort."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun