DALLAS — Lasan Kromah played 31 hard minutes, and left the arena with a limp.
"Just some bumps and bruises from the game," he said, quietly.
Limping or not, everyone on the UConn men's basketball team left Texas bumped, bruised and beaten. This time, it was Southern Methodist that was the tougher team, outworking the Huskies 74-65 Saturday before 7,166 at their sold-out, refurbished Moody Coliseum.
UConn (11-3) lost both games on this Houston-Dallas trip to start American Athletic Conference play, a rude awakening that will send the Huskies free-falling out of the rankings this coming week. From No. 9 on Dec. 9, following three losses in five games, UConn has played itself out of the national conversation and will have a long road to get back in it.
"There's nobody for us to look at besides ourselves," coach Kevin Ollie said, "and that's me included — first and foremost, that's me included. There will be some changes; we can't keep doing the same things."
This game played out differently than the other losses. There was no double-digit lead that slipped away, as against Stanford on Dec. 18, nor a sleepwalking start and big hole out of which to climb, as in Houston on Dec. 31. It was a close game much of the way, but SMU (11-3) took control of it late in the second half and smothered UConn, which has started 0-2 in conference play for the first time since the 1989-90 season in the Big East.
"All I can really say, once again, is a lack of intensity and effort," said Ryan Boatright, who scored 15 points. "Man, we get killed on rebounding all the time."
The Mustangs, coached by 73-year-old Hall-of-Famer Larry Brown, were not about to let the Huskies do things their way. Their defense, especially Nic Moore, hounded Shabazz Napier, who took only one shot in the first half and scored 12 very quiet points. Ollie said that many of Napier's good passes went for naught, and he got discouraged.
"I want Shabazz to be an All-American," Ollie said. "I want him being in attack mode all the time."
UConn's offense lost its mojo in that Stanford game on Dec. 18 and has not been the same since. On Saturday, the Huskies hit just 18 of 49 shots, 5 of 16 of their three-point attempts, and were outrebounded, 37 to 29.
"They were tougher tonight," Ollie said. "Every 50-50 ball, they got. We gave up rebounds on the free throw line, box outs. We're not good enough to do that."
SMU, meanwhile, shot 47.2 percent, hitting 7 of 16 three-point shots. "And we're not good enough to [allow] that," Ollie said. "…If we can't score, we're going to play defense. That's what I hang my hat on."
Moore scored 20 points for SMU, making three three-pointers. Nick Russell scored 14, and Markus Kennedy, the brawny man in the middle that other teams always seem to have, had 10 points and eight rebounds.
As Ollie looked for combinations, he put in Kromah, the grad-student transfer from George Washington, to quiet Moore.
"But when we switched Lasan off [Keith] Frazier, then Frazier got it going," Ollie said. "There's only one Lasan, we have to get some other guys to step up and play defense. We're very detail-oriented in practice, then when we get to the game, all our principles go out the window."
Tyler Olander got the start at center for UConn, Ollie's third starter in four games at that position. SMU got off dominating the boards, and defending, and built a 10-4 lead.
Then UConn got into the rebounding game, and Kromah came in to change the defensive look. The Huskies went on a 12-3 run to take the lead.
Two free throws by Boatright gave the Huskies an 18-13 lead with 8:18 to go in the half. Then SMU surged back, taking the lead. Boatright's three-point shot to end the half gave UConn a 33-32 lead. Moore already had 15 of SMU's 32 points.
"I felt we were lucky the first half," Brown said. "We made shots, but we settled a little bit too much. [UConn] got us playing a little bit too fast. You have to have great guard plays to play them. I thought our guard play was great. Nic kept us in early."
UConn caught up in rebounds early in the second half, and took a 41-40 lead on Niels Giffey's jumper with 14:05 left, but it was all SMU after that. Russell's steal and layup stretched the Mustangs' lead to 11 at 61-50 with 4:37 left, and that was it.
"We've got to play with more intensity," said Kromah, who had 12 points, four assists and two steals, "focus on the little things, box outs, getting 50-50 balls, that add up. We have to stay solid, stick to our principles."