Nov. 11, 2011
STORRS, Conn. (AP) - The last time Columbia faced the defending national champions, the Lions won. That was some 64 years ago.
Columbia didn't stage a repeat of their 1947 upset of Holy Cross but played No. 4 Connecticut relatively tough before falling 70-57 on Friday night.
"We threatened a little bit," coach Kyle Smith said. "There's a lot of stages to finally being able to win one of those."
After trailing by as many as 18 points, the Lions cut the deficit to nine in the final minute on a 3-pointer from Noruwa Agho.
Columbia's rebounding prowess - it pulled down 20 offensive rebounds and lost the overall rebounding battle only 43-41 - was a big reason it was able to keep the game tight.
The Huskies' size frustrated Columbia in other ways, however, and Smith says it's something he expected.
"They're long everywhere. I knew it'd be hard to make baskets, especially around the rim. I knew we'd have to make a lot of 3s to compete," said Smith, whose team hit 9 of 31 from behind the arc. "We made nine but we probably have to make 15 or something to get that done. I'm surprised we didn't take more, to be honest."
Agho, who led the Ivy League in scoring last season, had 16 points but was only 6 of 23 from the field. The 6-foot-3 Agho was guarded mostly by 6-8 UConn small forward Roscoe Smith and was apparently frustrated by Smith's size.
"I think I didn't do a good job of trying to put the ball in the basket and if they block it, they block it. I think a lot of it was trying not to get blocked or trying to draw contact, stuff like that," said Agho, who missed his first four shots and seven of his first eight. "To their credit, that's because they play good defense."
Jeremy Lamb scored a career-high 30 points, and Napier added 21 to lead No. 4 Connecticut, which returned four starters from last year's championship team, but lost its leader, Kemba Walker to the NBA draft.
Lamb hit 11 of 17 shots and was 5 of 8 from behind the arc.
"I'm not trying to be Kemba," he said. "This is a different team. This is a whole new team. I think I have to score a little more, but like I said there are a lot of weapons."
Napier was the other big weapon on Friday adding eight assists and six rebounds for the Huskies, who led 37-22 at halftime in the season opener for both teams.
"Guys like myself and Jeremy, we had to actually score a lot of points today, but hopefully it's not going to be like that all the time," Napier said. "I told my guys, I don't like scoring a lot of points. I love passing the ball."
Napier found very few people to pass to in the post. Tyler Olander had eight rebounds and eight points. But Alex Oriakhi had two points and highly touted freshman Andre Drummond did not score and had four rebounds.
UConn had 13 blocked shots, but being outrebounded 20-10 on the offensive boards, drew the wrath of coach Jim Calhoun.
"We don't have anybody in the frontcourt that can play right now, or is ready to play right now, except for Tyler, who understands how to play basketball," he said.
The victory extended the Huskies' winning streak to 12 games, after the 11-0 run that gave UConn the NCAA title in April.
Lamb took Columbia's Matt Johnson 1-on-1 at the end of the first half, stepping away on an ankle-breaking move and launching a 3-pointer that made it 37-22. UConn held the Lions to 29 percent shooting, 24 percent in the first half.
Lamb put the exclamation point on the game by drawing a foul with a baseline drive and dunk that made it 56-38 after the free throw.
The Lions used their rebounding and 3-pointers to keep it relatively close late. A basket by Mark Cisco made it 63-53 with 3 minutes left.
Agho had four 3-pointers. Blaise Staab, the cousin of former UConn player Jake Voskuhl, added 11 points and Brian Barbour had 10.
"Columbia worked like crazy," Calhoun said. "We were very fortunate."
Connecticut improved to 22-4 in season openers under Calhoun, and 68-4 against non-conference opponents at Gampel Pavilion.
Connecticut is 7-2 against the Lions, a team it had not played since Dec. 28, 1983, when the Huskies won 85-60. Referee Tim Higgins officiated both that game and UConn's win on Friday. Columbia hasn't beaten UConn since 1976.
The Huskies unveiled their national championship plaque before the game, but had a few problems celebrating. The arena's video boards didn't work for the first half, forcing the postponement of the team's new opening montage until halftime. And during the unveiling ceremony for the championship plaque, the staff had trouble reaching the rope that held the drape. That problem was solved by the UConn mascot, who lifted a small child up to grab it and complete the unveiling.
UConn's big men, Calhoun said "had as difficult a time rebounding as we did unveiling that banner."
"We are not the No. 4 team in the country at this point," he said. "Not even near it."