Viewpoint Loss to Iowa shows how far UConn still has to go
NEW YORK — Connecticut woke up with a basketball hangover Friday morning. Many of its residents had trudged through the snow to the big city and many more had gathered around their flat-screen televisions for the ESPN telecast of UConn’s high-energy, highly emotional victory over No. 15 Syracuse.
The program was back. And thousands of Huskies fans rejoiced for the first time in a long time. The trip to midtown Manhattan felt like a trip to Times Square for the dropping of the ball on New Year’s Eve. Yeah, the ball dropped on Jim Boeheim’s head.
And Connecticut felt good, really good.
As the game ended, there were Jalen Adams and coach Dan Hurley exchanging chest bumps and slaps.
Twenty-four later, there were Adams and Hurley coming together again with 1:44 remaining. Only this time here was Adams giving his coach a pick-me-up hug after Hurley had been ejected with his second technical foul.
Final: Iowa 91, UConn 72.
And yes, this certainly felt like a 19-point November thumping in just about every way. The ball dropped on UConn’s head this time. If the Syracuse victory showed what could happen, this loss demonstrated how much work still needs to be done.
The two best players on the floor weren’t in UConn jerseys. Iowa was big, strong, deep. They were mature. The Hawkeyes outclassed UConn.
“This isn’t some Disney movie where overnight this whole thing is just going to be like ‘The Mighty Ducks’ or whatever,” Hurley said. “It’s going to take us time to get better. Hopefully by January or February we’re a really strong overall team.”
Oddly enough, the allegedly mighty Ducks of Oregon, ranked 13th in the nation, were throttled by Iowa on Thursday night. Impressed watching film of the three other teams in the 2K Empire Classic, Hurley said, “We were kind of rooting for Oregon a little bit (against Iowa). I thought Iowa was the most mature team, most well-rounded team and the toughest matchup for us.”
Entering the championship game, one big question was: Could Iowa handle UConn’s speed and pressure? And if they couldn’t, would everyone walk out of Madison Square Garden wondering how high could UConn set the bar? Forget that stuff for today.
By halftime the questions had to be this: Did UConn experience an emotional letdown after Syracuse? And how would Hurley handle his first loss?
We didn’t have to wait for the postgame interview for the answer to the second question. With 104 seconds left, Hurley squatted on the sideline, said he yelled something to Adams and referee Bo Boroski nailed him with his second technical.
“Jalen had come over to me and voiced his displeasure about what was going on,” Hurley said. “I said to him don’t worry about it. I’ll talk about it in the press conference.
“I probably don’t want to put myself in the minds of that crew tonight. Bo obviously overheard a conversation I was having with a player on my team and felt that was the appropriate decision ... We all have to be accountable for our performance. At least hopefully we are.”
The Huskies had played with a determined frenzy against Syracuse, so much fire. None of it was there in the first half. Adams and Alterique Gilbert said the letdown had more to do what happened after missed shots and turnovers than the emotional outburst against Syracuse.
“We let our offense dictate the way we played,” Adams said. “We’ve got to start with defense, let our defense create our offense. We weren’t making shots today. We kind of fell back and weren’t as aggressive as we should have been.”
“We want to win every game,” Gilbert said. “Like Jalen said, our offense dictated the way we played on defense, and that can’t happen.”
The Huskies had 11 turnovers in the first half, seven in the first 5:30. After shooting 11 for 21 from 3 against Syracuse, they started 0 for 13 outside the arc and didn’t hit their first 3 until under 10 minutes remained. Iowa got to the line 37 times. UConn got to the line 15 times.
The Huskies ran into New York traffic at rush hour. There were tractor-trailers in Iowa uniforms clogging the Cross-Bronx Expressway. UConn couldn’t speed up Iowa. Instead, they were the sloppy team.
Yes, UConn kept pushing, didn’t give up, played through some iffy officiating, and that’s a lesson in itself. The truth is Iowa won this game early, won it all night until they took their foot off the pedal in the last half-dozen minutes.
“If you had said to me six, seven months ago, after the first individual workout that we’d come to the Garden, beat Syracuse in an emotional game and take a split, lie detector, I’d be thrilled where we’re at after four games,” Hurley said. “That being said, I didn’t like the job I did getting my team ready for today. It’s a bitter taste for me. Bitter.”
Versatile Luka Garza, the MVP of the tournament, tore up UConn inside and outside. Tyler Cook, whom Hurley called a “grown man,” destroyed UConn inside. The bad news: Iowa made UConn look twitchy and sloppy. The good news: It’s only Game 4.
“The ball was sticking for us,” Hurley said. “It was our first adversity in a game in terms of getting behind. It wasn’t selfishness that kicked in. These guys wanted this one so bad. They desperately wanted to win something. You’re a basketball player at UConn. You want to win something. We had a chance to win a championship. Once we got down, we were trying to score seven-point buckets, eight-point baskets. We kind of stopped trusting each other. What’s made us good offensively got away from us today.”
They took a lot of contested shots. They didn’t get the inside-out 3s they got against Syracuse.
“Part of it was the multiple defenses they threw at us,” Hurley said. “Part of it was our first time in that situation and we panicked a little bit.”
Eric Cobb, who followed up a 13-point, 13-rebound game with a career-high 16 points, was the only UConn player worth talking about on this night. He also was the lone Husky to be picked to the all-tournament team.
“We can’t get away from sharing the ball,” Hurley said. “Get that ball moving around. When offense isn’t happening, we need to keep that game six-to-eight heading into halftime by being gritty on the glass and getting stops. We allowed our lack of offense to affect our mood. In the huddles we didn’t have that same look on our faces.”
The place had been so electric Thursday night. Not this night. The city may never sleep, but MSG got sleepy for UConn until a few 3s fell late and Hurley picked up his two T’s.
The fans chanted his name for the technical.
He’d much rather hear his name after a win.