Before the clock struck midnight and 2022 was in the rearview mirror, there was UConn hoops action in Ohio.
The stakes were high and every person in the building knew it. It was the top dog of the Big East, looking to remain undefeated and maintain its position as one of the top teams in college basketball. They remained as strong as ever with a deep lineup that could beat you in every way. UConn’s opponent, Xavier, truly had a tough matchup and head coach Sean Miller was determined as ever to put up a tough battle, even with key contributor Jack Nunge battling the flu.
As the game progressed, the Huskies didn’t look like their usual selves. Their defensive identity felt lost and by the end of the game, five Musketeer players had double-digit scoring numbers. Xavier notably killed UConn from the free-throw line, shooting 28 total shots from the stripe compared to a mere 9 from the Huskies.
UConn’s self-inflicted wounds continued to pile up. Xavier grabbed plenty of extra possessions thanks to UConn’s 16 turnovers over the course of the game. It was one of the key factors that helped them jump to a double-digit lead at one point in the first half.
By halftime, UConn had a one-point lead and players like Hassan Diarra and especially Andre Jackson stepped up big time. Jackson himself nearly had a triple-double, a symbol of the way that he’s able to affect all facets of the game. If the Huskies were able to play their brand of basketball and attack the Musketeers with tough defense and smart shooting, there was no reason that the Huskies couldn’t head into 2023 with a nice win on the road in one of the toughest environments in the Big East.
Yet, things continued to go wrong for UConn. The momentum they brought into the half quickly dissipated and the turnovers continued. There were missed opportunities from players like Alex Karaban, who shot a mere 2-for-8 from 3-point land. Jackson shot a below-average 4-for-12 from beyond the arch after draining two clutch 3-point shots in the first half. As the second half progressed, the game looked like it would be a nail-biter. Even with all their mistakes and the game remaining a single-digit affair, one of the final blows came at the 2:25 mark.
It came as the team tried to come back from a small two-point deficit. A foul on big man Zach Freemantle sent him to the line for two free throws. While the Huskies would be down four with less time, the game remained close, but a technical foul from Connecticut coach Dan Hurley resulted in four points from the stripe and a 71-77 score. It was just one of the many mistakes that came at a very poor time and pushed the game out of reach for a UConn team that usually looked in control at this point in their contests.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, by the time the final buzzer sounded, UConn finally felt the feeling of defeat for the first time this season. The student section at the Cintas Center was deafening and not a single student sat down. Their team had just upset one of the top teams in the country and had made a statement for all of college basketball. The same team that had destroyed the majority of their opponents by double digits had now lost by a 10-point margin.
What’s next for UConn? It’s back to the drawing board as the Huskies prepare for an always-exciting matchup on the road against the Providence Friars. They may have more help in the form of Samson Johnson, a huge addition to their frontcourt depth and a player who is still determined to have a big sophomore leap. But, most importantly, it’s time for the Huskies to get right back to the identity that pushed them to become one of the top teams in college basketball.