The UConn men’s basketball season came to an abrupt halt Saturday night after Kansas’ Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden Jr. combined 43 points en route to a 73-61 victory. The dynamic duo sent the number one seeded Jayhawks to the sweet 16 for the first time since 2013.
It was well known before the game it was going to be a David versus Goliath matchup. Kansas (30-4), the field’s number one overall seed, entered the tournament on a 14-game winning streak, fresh off winning the Big 12 regular season and post-season championships.
UConn (25-11) finished the regular season as the sixth best team in the American Athletic Conference. However, they were on a mission. They won their first AAC Championship, defeating the Memphis Tigers, 72-58.
Kansas was in the driver’s seat from start to finish. They dominated the Huskies inside and out, and most of all, they shot lights out. Selden set the tone of the game early on with a quick three pointer. His teammate, Devonte Graham, followed with a three of his own less than a minute later. Before the Huskies could blink, Graham would hit another from downtown, and the lead was 10.
The Jayhawks never looked back. UConn head coach Kevin Ollie told the Hartford Courant’s Jeff Jacobs that his team simply had no answer.
"What weren't they doing? They were doing everything possible, controlling the backboards, getting out on their fast break, and their physicality is what's shown to me is the biggest thing we have to work on. Their bigs were sealing, getting whatever they wanted, and they just took us out of our offense. We've got to get better."
The Huskies trailed by 20 points at halftime because they could not stop the Kansas runs. The Jayhawks had two enormous runs (16-0 and 19-0) before the intermission buzzer sounded. The Huskies simply could not stop the Jayhawks on either end of the floor. Ellis and Selden rolled over the Huskies on the defensive side of the basketball. They shot 17-27 from the field.
The Huskies were also a man down despite Kansas’ efficient shooting. Amida Brimah played limited minutes throughout the game after picking up two early fouls.
UConn tried to rally in the second half, cutting the lead to nine with 9:35 remaining. Sterling Gibbs (20 points) and Rodney Purvis (17) began to heat up from downtown. However this momentum came to a halt once Bill Self called a timeout to stop the bleeding.
Jacobs quoted Self saying the following after the game:
"We lost all our momentum," Self said. "We called a couple of plays, but the first one was the biggest one. They were zone and Perry Ellis made a 16-footer right from the free-throw line in the middle of the zone [to make it 52-41]. So to me that was the biggest shot of the game."
The Ellis jumper crushed UConn’s morale and the lead soon increased back to 15. The Huskies fought hard the rest of the way, but the deficit could not be overcome.
The Huskies left with their heads held high despite being run off the floor. The team exceeded all reasonable expectations after winning the AAC Championship.
"A lot of people had us disqualified [from making the NCAA Tournament] after the SMU loss, but these guys stuck together and were able to win the AAC Tournament and get to the second round," Ollie told Jacobs.
However, the fact of the matter is that UConn needs to get bigger and stronger. Guard play has worked for them in the past, but it has made them inconsistent. College guards do not control games at the same level as pro guards. Rebounding and inside play is crucial at the college level. Unfortunately for the Huskies, they were out-rebounded 44-24 by Kansas.