Heart, Hustle, Effort ... Loss
Then, the Huskies finally started to flash forward Gavin Edwards to the high post and hit him in the paint. With that -- and some Syracuse foul trouble -- UConn's halfcourt offense finally started to click, and the Huskies climbed all the way back from a 16-point deficit with 13:50 to go to tie it on a Jerome Dyson trey with 2:33 remaining.
They showed tremendous heart and hustle in mustering the comeback. But, eventually, they fell short. Again.
Dyson missed a 10-footer with 1:02 left that could have given UConn its first lead since 2-1. Then, things got odd.
After a timeout, Syracuse inbounded the ball with 45.5 seconds left and Andy Rautins missed a corner 3-pointer. Rick Jackson grabbed the rebound and passed to Scoop Jardine, and Jim Boeheim called timeout, though nobody but referee John Cahill seemed to notice. Jardine drove for a layup and was blocked by Gavin Edwards, and UConn grabbed the loose ball. But Cahill had awarded Boeheim the timeout, and the Orange retained possession with 36.6 seconds left.
Why did Boeheim call that timeout?
"I saw Scoop with the ball," he deadpanned. "I didn't look at the rest of it, but I don't think I had to. He didn't know where he was going, that's why I called time out."
Johnson was fouled by Robinson and hit both freebies. After a timeout, UConn ran its offense and Dyson settled for a long wing 3-pointer with about 13 seconds still remaining. He missed.
"We weren’t afraid to take a 3," said acting head coach George Blaney, "but we would have liked to have taken it a little closer. And 'Rome agrees."
"I could have gotten a better one than the one I got," Dyson confessed. "It felt good. I let it fly, and I looked where I was and I was a step or two (behind the 3-point line) … I thought it was going in."
When asked if Dyson's shot was the one the team wanted, sophomore point guard Kemba Walker said, succinctly: "Not really. We just wanted to get a good shot. That's really it."
Kris Joseph was fouled on the rebound and hit both free throws. Walker drove the length of the floor for a layup, but after a timeout, Wes Johnson hit Joseph with a long inbounds pass and Ater Majok was called for an intentional foul. UConn didn't guard the inbounds pass, meaning it had a 5-on-4 advantage, but still allowed Joseph to break free.
"You're trying to press, and what you always try to do in those circumstances is try to be a defensive back and not allow space in between," said Blaney. "They stepped open and created space, and that was all."
When asked if the long baseball pass was what he had designed, Boeheim simply said: "Once in a while, we have a play."
Joseph hit both free throws, Jardine added another for good measure, and Syracuse had survived.
Syracuse, a 65-percent foul-shooting team, hit 23-of-28 (82.1 percent) from the charity stripe.
***Not sure if Blaney was criticizing the refs or not with this postgame remark: "I asked the officials one time that Jimmy Boeheim has 800-and-whatever number of wins, and that he didn't need any help from them tonight. He had enough wins. We were trying not to get him another win tonight."
Blaney said he had been "really angry" with the team the last two days, but "I told them I was really proud of them tonight, because they gave everything they had. We just made some foolish mistakes. The three fouls that we committed just were really killers, and to me, that changed the game for them, and for us."
***Boeheim on Jim Calhoun:
"George Blaney is a tremendous coach, but Jim Calhoun is one of the best coaches ever to coach in college basketball. People don't mention him that much when they talk about great coaches. He's done more -- taking a program from the Yankee Conference to the top of college basketball – than anybody else has ever done, at any school. If you look at the other great programs, they were great before their coaches got there. For them to play this well with Jim not being there is a tribute to George, and the kids themselves."
***Anyway, tough loss, great effort by UConn. But at some point, it's got to turn these close calls against top teams into victories. A Cincinnati team that appears in a bit of disarray comes to town on Saturday, then comes a trip to Philly for No. 4 Villanova, and yet another opportunity to score that signature win.