Jan. 18, 2012
By Erika Wentzell
A packed Gampel Pavilion was rocking at the University of Connecticut on Wednesday night as the men’s basketball team took the court to face BIG EAST foe Cincinnati. The Huskies had been flawless at home all season, posting a combined record of 10-0 in both Storrs and Hartford, going into the matchup.
However, the Bearcats served Connecticut its first home loss with a score of 70-67. Cincinnati was able to continue its outstanding season, maintaining its second place standing in the BIG EAST only trailing an undefeated Syracuse.
Kemba Walker, UConn’s hero of the 2011 NCAA Championship run and now a member of the Charlotte Bobcats, was in attendance and the crowd started chanting his name as the game began.
Despite his presence in the stands, he was not on the court and the first half was slow to get going for both teams. However, Cincinnati pulled away for a 10-point lead with seven minutes remaining in the half. The Huskies had a few more solid drives but they never regained the lead and went into halftime down by nine points with a score of 42-33.
In the first half, UConn outscored Cincinnati in the paint 18-8, but the Bearcats snagged seven three-pointers -- which was certainly a difference maker for them. Huskies guard Shabazz Napier led scoring at half time after racking up 13 points.
Shortly after the start of the second half, the Huskies got within four points of the Bearcats -- thanks to a pretty three pointer by Niels Giffey followed by a breakaway by Jeremy Lamb with 15:10 left to go. UConn cut it to two on a jump shot by Lamb 34 seconds later and tied the game at 50-50 with a slam dunk by Andre Drummond with 11:53 remaining in the game. A two-pointer by Roscoe Smith that gave the Huskies their first lead in the second half -- 53-52 with 9:12 to go.
Play remained neck-and-neck with the lead changing six times as the game came close to its finale. Cincinnati regained the momentum to lead the Huskies by eight, 65-57, with less than three minutes to play. The energy shifted to UConn yet again with a three-pointer and a free throw by Napier that made it 67-64 Bearcats with 19 seconds to go.
In what looked like it would be a photo finish, Napier tied the game with nine seconds remaining, only to be answered by Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick’s three-point jumper with 2.5 ticks left. Napier claims he wasn’t expecting that turn around from Kilpatrick
“I was super surprised that he made that last three,” says Napier. “I was shocked because I gave him a little nudge in the legs and that always takes somebody off their shot. For him to make that shot was tough.”
That final three turned out to be the deciding factor in the Huskies getting handed their first loss at home this season. Drummond has consistently been a team stand out all season; this week he received the BIG EAST Rookie of the Week nod for the fourth time this year. He also entered Wednesday’s game with three consecutive double-doubles, all from BIG EAST play. Drummond’s performance was down on Wednesday as he finished with just four points.
The Huskies will look for the extremely talented freshman to get back into his groove for Saturday’s game against Tennessee.
“I liked what Kemba said to me, I didn’t like it really but it’s truthful, these aren’t the same guys I played with. At least they didn’t play that way tonight,” said UConn head coach Jim Calhoun after visiting with the start of the 2010-11 Huskies after the game.