Sunday, February 28, 2010

Over in a New York Point Guard's Minute

And just like that, it was over. Not the UConn men's basketball team's NCAA tournament hopes … not yet.

But a stirring game that seemed destined for some kind of epic ending – in regulation or beyond – was over in a New York point guard's minute on Sunday. Or, more precisely, over in 8.2 seconds.

Edgar Sosa, Louisville's oft-maligned point guard out of the Bronx, hit a tough, driving layup with 8.2 ticks left on the clock to give the Cardinals a 78-76 lead.

Kemba Walker, UConn's red-hot point guard and former teammate of Sosa's at Rice High, took the inbounds pass and drove the length of the floor. No timeout called, nor wanted by coach Jim Calhoun.

"I wanted him to go to the rim," Calhoun said of Walker. "We didn't get there."

Indeed, Walker's wild shot was blocked by Samardo Samuels, Louisville grabbed the loose ball and the Cardinals (19-10, 10-6 Big East) had a huge road victory before 10,167 on senior day at Gampel Pavilion.

And for UConn, a tough loss that puts them right back on the proverbial tourney bubble. Just don't ask Calhoun for his assessment on where the Huskies stand.

When asked how he "assesses the landscape of the Big East" right now, Calhoun said: "I assess getting ready for Notre Dame. I could give a (bleep) about the landscape of the Big East … The only landscape I know is Gampel Pavilion (for practice, today), and then to South Bend to play Notre Dame."

UConn (17-12, 7-9 Big East) likely needs a win over the Fighting Irish to stay on the tournament selection committee's good side.

***Today's magic number was 22. As in, the number of consecutive games at Gampel UConn had won, until today.

Also, Louisville had just 22 rebounds to UConn's 50. Heck, the Huskies had nearly as many offensive boards (20) as the Cardinals did total.

But UConn turned the ball over a season-high 22 times (14 of them in the second half), and Louisville had 15 steals and hit 10 3-pointers to help offset UConn's backboard dominance.

"When you steal the basketball and keep your turnovers down," said Rick Pitino, "you get those possessions back."

Ironically, it was one of the mere six offensive rebounds the Cardinals got that had Calhoun most steamed. The Huskies had taken a 71-68 lead on Gavin Edwards' two free throws with 4:06 left. Louisville's Preston Knowles misfired on a 3-pointer from the corner, but Samuels grabbed the offensive rebound, Knowles eventually got the ball back in the EXACT SAME SPOT, and this time swished the trey to tie it up.

"If you had told me coming in we would have (outrebounded the Cards by 50-22), I would have given up the 10 3's," said Calhoun. "Nine, actually. The one when we were up by three was a bad play. Someone had to get out on the shooter."

***The anatomy of Louisville's game-winning play:

After Jerome Dyson had thrown the ball away on a drive, Pitino called timeout with 29.3 ticks left.

"I told them, 'Guys, I know we're making this. You've just got to promise me one thing: that you get back on defense, don't give them a 3 and don't foul them,'" Pitino said afterwards. "I told them, 'Don't celebrate, there will be time left on the clock."

Sure enough, Sosa made his tough shot, for just his second field goal of the game.

"It's a double-screen high, and Edgar decides on what to do," said Pitino. "He did the right thing."

Shrugged Calhoun: "You can't give up a layup on that play."

Meanwhile, Walker couldn't quite counter his former teammate's New York moxie.

"I got the ball and just tried to go coast-to-coast, but I lost it when I went up," he said. "That was it."

Would a timeout have been beneficial?

"I don't know," Walker added. "Maybe not."

Added Calhoun: "He can make it, comfortably, in four seconds, maybe five. We've done all of those kind of things before. Most likely, if he gets to the rim, you'll get a foul on that play, because they're trying to hold onto the win. But it didn't happen that way."

***Louisville pretty much clinched a Big Dance berth with the win.

"According to Joe (Lunardi, not Lombardi), we're in," said Pitino. "With NCAA brackets, in Joe we trust."

UConn? Not there yet. A win over Notre Dame Wednesday will get them a step closer. A loss could put them on the outside looking in.

But take solace in Pitino's words, Husky fans:

"You can't ever get down, because you don't know where the wins are going to come. The old days, you look on paper, 'If we play well, we'll beat this team.' You can't describe the Big East that way, because it's not true. Notre Dame, without Harangody, we beat them in overtime. They go home and beat Pitt by a considerable margin, go at Georgetown beat them by a considerable margin. Who won Marquette-Seton Hall today? ("Marquette, in overtime," a few media members replied) Marquette's had more close games than any team in America. Seton Hall is on the bubble, now Marquette's in. It's amazingly competitive … and it's going to be the same next year. We thought it was going to be a little down this year, but look at it. It's the No. 1 conference, by far. It's even stronger."

***Walker (28), Edwards (career high-matching 17), Robinson (14) and Dyson (13) combined for all but four of UConn's points.

Pitino on Walker: "He's hell on wheels."

Calhoun: "It was a tough play at the end, but overall Kemba played well. He kept us in the game. He helped us get the lead."

***This is the first game this season UConn has lost while scoring 70 or more points. It is now 15-1 in such contests.

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