They say, “Defense wins championships.”
If that’s the case, with the way UConn played on Sunday, this team isn’t close to winning much of anything.
It was a total defensive breakdown for the UConn men’s basketball team at Gampel Pavilion, falling to Houston 75-68.
“I don’t know where our defense went,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said. “It was all transition and it was just a tough loss. I hope our guys feel this.”
The Huskies' (20-9, 10-6 The American) transition defense betrayed them the whole game. Houston (21-8, 11-6 The American) scored 18 fast break points.
“We couldn’t keep anyone in front of us. We couldn’t get back in transition and we didn’t play with any heart. That’s the summary of the game,” Ollie said.
The Cougars shot 51.9 percent from the field, including 60 percent in the second half. That is the highest shooting percentage that UConn has allowed all season.
Houston’s Damyean Dotson led all scorers with 22 points, including a demoralizing three pointer late in the second half to push the lead to six points, sealing the game.
Ollie was quick to praise Dotson, saying he “dominated the whole game.” But he insisted that the key to the game was internal foritutde from his players.
“It just comes down to toughness and ‘I’m not going to let my man by me’ that’s pretty much what it comes down to. That and lack of effort. It’s very disappointing. It’s been like that all year. You get up high and you get down low. It’s just lack of focus and lack of leadership and we got to get better the next two games,” Ollie said.
Ollie’s frustrations were palpable. In his postgame remarks, he consistently made pointed comments about his team’s lack of consistency and effort from game to game.
Daniel Hamilton was UConn’s leading scorer, with 20 points on 8-14 shooting, played a strong offensive game. Yet, his head coach was not pleased.
“I love Daniel to death, it’s 20 points but, I don’t scare if you score 40 points. You can’t give up 60 percent shooting in the second half. Yeah, I’ll clap for Daniel. That’s 20 points, but we couldn’t guard nobody in the half court and Dotson got 22,” Ollie said.
Houston took over the game with their transition ability. Time and time again, they’d pull down a rebound, or push the pace after a made basket, and get to the rim. By unofficial count, the Cougars were able to score nine baskets in the second half in the first 15 seconds of the shot clock.
“You can’t give up 18 points on fastbreak. We get up three and we give a guy a run. I mean, he literally takes the ball out of bounds, gets and outlet and makes a layup. You can’t play like that. You shouldn’t put a UConn jersey on if you’re playing like that,” Ollie said.
This performance from the Huskies is a statistical outlier. They’ve been one of the best defensive teams in the nation, according to the KenPom ratings. Even factoring in Sunday’s loss, the Huskies are 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency. They’ve held opponents to a season long shooting percentage of 37.9, which places them firmly in the top five in the nation.
Yet, Houston found a weakness to exploit. Cougars head coach Kelvin Sampson went into great detail explaining his team’s success.
“Connecticut’s defense is really good on one side of the floor. They want you to play on the strong side. Those side pick and rolls, they send the ball down, that’s one side, they want you to play there,” he said. “I thought what we did today was get the ball to the other side and then back to the third side. When you can play three sides versus a strong side defense you’re usually going to get a good shot. I thought our discipline offensively was good. I thought our poise in transition was good. The ball moved.”
If looking at past results is any indication, this game will surely be a fluke. UConn has been up-and-down all season, but their defense has been an anchor. Yet, with just two regular season games remaining, including a date at SMU on Thursday, it’s time for the Huskies to buckle up.
The pressure is on. The possibility of missing the NCAA tournament for a second consecutive year is starting to creep into the picture.
Defensive performances like, even if it is most likely a one-time anomaly, will only hurt UConn’s resume.
“It’s pressure all the time. When you have pressure like this, it’s a great privilege to play in front of a crowd like this,” Ollie said. “To kind of cement ourselves in the NCAA tournament, it would’ve been a great victory for us to keep the momentum going down to SMU. You just let it slip through your fingers and that’s very, very hard to swallow…We did not play the right way at all. It’s very disappointing, I’m disappointed for our fans to see that… It’s unacceptable.”