Rewind eleven days to a Saturday afternoon at Gampel Pavilion. All was happy in Storrs and the rest of Connecticut after the Huskies completed a 2nd half domination, dismantling and flat-out beating of the No. 1 Texas Longhorns.
Seniors Stanley Robinson and Jerome Dyson (career high 31 points) had finally played up to their potential in the same game and the results were obvious. Maybe the team that played Kentucky earlier in the year was back. Maybe they will make a run at the end of the year. Maybe head coach Jim Calhoun was right that this team would be the strongest all season come February.
Oh how quickly things have changed. Instead of building off that high profile win that looked oh-so-good on the Huskies resume for the tournament in March, Connecticut has gone on to lose three consecutive games against Providence, Marquette and Louisville, three teams that are hardly the class of the Big East this season. The fate of the remainder of the year was on display Monday night at Freedom Hall in a contest where the team showed such a lack of heart and determination, that you had to wonder if they had flat-out given up on each other, their interim coach and the season.
Those who celebrated the win over Texas as fans rushed the floor were perhaps a little too quick to ignore what had happened just one week earlier in Ann Arbor, MI. With the game in reach, 'Sticks' Robinson stepped to the line for the first of two free throws and proceeded to air ball the first. It was the most perplexing moment of UConn basketball for me since I began watching in the early '90s. The bewildered and confused look on Calhoun's face, makes me believe that was the moment that caused him to take his leave of absence.
With interim coach George Blaney at the helm, some felt with the quick yank after one mistake mentality of Calhoun gone, it would allow the team to settle down and play more relaxed. Well that was evident for at least two games, including that affair with the Longhorns, however the Huskies need a spark from their bench and with all due respect to Coach Blaney and the rest of the staff, you are just not cutting it.
So where does Connecticut go from here. With a tough schedule that includes games at Syracuse, at Villanova, hosting West Virginia and home rematches with Cincinnati and Louisville (both losses), the Huskies will be hard pressed to find enough wins to sneak into the big tournament of March Madness.
In order to pull off a miracle and make it into the dance, the Huskies need to fix a number of things before Saturday's game with DePaul at Gampel. First, Coach Calhoun needs to return to the sidelines. Immediately, that would cut down on Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker driving into two and three defenders around the rim. Someone needs to tell them that that is not a high percentage play.
In addition, senior Stanley Robinson, who is supposed to be one of the leaders on this team, needs to shoot the ball more. Too many times in the second half of games he is playing hot potato with the basketball. It seems that one bad shot turns his aggressiveness off and his willingness to shoot becomes non-existent.
Someone must step up in the middle. Senior Gavin Edwards or one of the freshmen, Ater Majok or Alex Oriakhi need to rebound and defend the rim with reckless abandon. There were way too many easy layups by the Cardinals on Monday to count.
Finally, Jamaal Coombs-McDaniel needs to play and be the three point shooter this team is lacking. It is what cost the Huskies a year ago and it is the same story this season.
So the Huskies are going to have to win one of their two road games against top 5 teams, Villanova or Syracuse. They are going to have to go to Notre Dame and walk away with a win for the second consecutive year. And they are going to have to take care of home court against No. 8 West Viriginia and against Cincinnati and Louisville, who have already both beaten the Huskies.
A tough task, and seeing as Connecticut has proven time and time again that they are not up for a challenge, it seems this will be impossible to say the least.