HARTFORD — Six times a game-on-the-line, add-to-the-legacy Shabazz Napier shot clanked off the rim. Each one felt a little weirder than the previous.
After he missed the first, after the second, even after the third, you still thought that one was going to drop. One was all UConn needed.
In the final 10 seconds, Stanford’s Josh Huestis missed the front end of a one-and-one because, well, that’s what happens when you play UConn. You give the Huskies life; they beat you in stunning fashion. Repeat.
So trailing by two, 53-51, after a shockingly dreadful second half, Napier flipped the ball to Omar Calhoun, who let it fly from about 25 feet in front of the UConn bench.
His shot arced high with zero rotation. And from the baseline adjacent to UConn’s bench, as that ball began its descent, I swear it looked good.
“It was kind of a 3-on-2 on the right side and I felt like Omar was the most open guy at the time,” Napier said. “I didn’t want to try to force it at all. I believe in every shot Omar takes. I wanted him to shoot the ball at the time. I felt like it was going in, and I bet he did too.”
Of course, it barely grazed the rim, and December remained a single buzzer-beater month for the Huskies (so far, at least).
“We settled for 3s, we didn’t get it to (DeAndre Daniels) in the four-hole and we didn’t get out in transition,” said UConn coach Kevin Ollie. “And that’s the ballgame.”
That much is true. UConn’s zone offense was unwatchable. I would say it affected the ESPN ratings, but this is the same network that televised the Baltimore Ravens offense Monday night. Anyone who can sit through a few hours of that can stomach a bad half of college hoops.
The second half Wednesday went like so: The Huskies passed the ball around the perimeter, rarely ever penetrated and eventually jacked up a 3-pointer. The percentages began to balance out. UConn entered shooting 46.5 percent from deep, best in the nation, but missed all 12 of its long-range attempts in the second half. It went 5-for-31 from the floor. It scored 13 lousy points.
So, yeah, it set itself up for another SportsCenter Top 10.
“I was kind of waiting for myself to make a shot,” Napier said. “I felt like the ball couldn’t go in the hoop. Not that I save the team a lot of times, but sometimes I’m able to knock down those shots.”
On cue, Napier buried a jumper to silence a 14-0 Cardinal run, giving UConn a brief 45-44 lead. He missed a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, but assisted on a DeAndre Daniels lay-in and then converted another lay-up himself. It was 49-48 Huskies. It was “here we go again…”
Napier opted for his once-a-game heat-check with 7:27 remaining, the Huskies still ahead by one. He missed, and he wouldn’t make another shot the rest of the way. Napier, shooting 60 percent from deep, misfired on his final six shots. Three of them were in the final minute. You have to go back a long way to find the last time that happened.
How long, exactly?
“You know, when we lost to Georgetown (last year),” Napier said. “We kept going to overtime and overtime.”
To be fair, in that game, Napier missed a single 3-pointer that could have iced it. After an Otto Porter scoring spree, it was Boatright who missed the potential game-winner at the buzzer. And remember: It was Omar Calhoun who sunk a rainbow 3-pointer with two seconds in regulation, among the many big stage shots this group has buried in two years. Also, among the few that didn’t leave the right hand of Shabazz Napier.
There was no Otto Porter on Stanford, just a bunch of active, long-armed defenders that forced the Huskies into the worst half of basketball they’ve played under Kevin Ollie. Yes, the final 20 minutes at the XL were that bad. Ryan Boatright, Omar Calhoun and Lasan Kromah were a combined 0-for-12 in the second half. That’s all you need to know.
“I don’t know if (the zone) affected us too much,” Ollie said. “I think we affected ourselves. We got in our own way tonight.”
“That has everything to do with me,” Napier said. “I’m not running the team well when we’re up by double-digits.”
Napier was running his mouth with 1:54 remaining, still slapping at the ball after Stanford’s Anthony Brown had called timeout. Annoyed by the post-whistle move, Brown slipped a little jab at Napier’s upper-thigh. The refs must’ve missed it.
“I should have flopped,” Napier said. “Like I play soccer.”
Let’s count UConn’s record in PKs these past few years. Maryland, Indiana and Florida this season. That’s 3-0. Last year, it was MichiganState, Quinnipiac, Providence (twice), South Florida, Cincinnati, Georgetown, Marquette and New Mexico. Give the Huskies a 6-3 mark there.
That’s 9-3 in games that truly could have gone either way. That’s a little luck and alotta clutch.
UConn had neither Wednesday. It missed the few good shots it took and prematurely launched too many 3s for Ollie’s liking. It scored 13 second half points. I mean, 13!!!
The Huskies had No. 13, though, so they had a chance.
“I wanted him to go to the basket,” Ollie said, “but with Shabazz you live with that, because he has put this team on his back a lot of times.”