In front of over 10,000 people on the road the Friars struggled to finish off the Huskies and ended up on the wrong end of the scoreboard, 63-59. The loss finished off Providence's regular season with a 9-9 Big East record (good for 8th place), and 17-13 overall.
Impact: But it was more than just a tough loss on the road - the loss shattered the hopes Providence had of putting together an NCAA at-large bid. It also prevented Providence from earning a higher seed in the Big East Tournament (however, the Friars were already locked in for a first round bye). But arguably the most important part of all was that this game - whether the Friars won or lost - marked the last time these two New England rivals will play each other as conference teammates. Come July 1, Providence will be in a new Big East with the current basketball-only Big East schools as well as Butler, Xavier and Creighton. UConn, meanwhile, will stay with South Florida, Cincinnati and future full-member Temple to compete against teams like SMU, Houston, and Central Florida in their yet-unnamed conference.
NCAA Hopes: The Friars came into Gampel boasting seven wins out of their last eight games - the sole loss in this stretch coming to Syracuse on the road - and the buzz for the Friars was at an all-time high for the season. After being picked to finish last in the Big East Providence was building their case for an NCAA at-large bid, finding themselves just outside the bubble. The popular idea was that if Providence was able to "run the table" on the rest of the season and win a couple games in New York, the Friars would get to go dancing.
UConn had other plans, and weren't going to let the Friars get the much-needed win. Tough defense from the Huskies, mixed with some impressive offensive shot selection, put the Friars' back against the wall and challenged them to find a way out. Providence would respond with small runs, but UConn had answers. Despite trailing for all of the first half, the Friars did eventually eclipse the Huskies in the second half of the game.
However, with 32 seconds left and the Friars up two, 55-53, Kris Dunn fouled Ryan Boatright, who converted both free throw attempts to tie the game. With the shot clock off and the game tied, Providence tried to get the ball to LaDontae Henton on the wing to score and close out the game, but DeAndre Daniels made a crucial block on the shot, followed by Shabazz Napier recovering the ball, to force an overtime where UConn doubled Providence's scoring efforts (eight to four) to win the game.
The loss resulted in the Friars falling off the bubble and, short of winning the Big East Tournament, out of the conversation for an at-large bid. However, the Friars are projected to make it to the NIT for the first time since 2009.
Forfeiting Rivalries: One of the conference schedule highlights for both Providence and Connecticut are their inner-New England battles, and rightfully so - the two teams have been two prominent members of not only the New England college hoops scene over the decades, they're also the only New England remaining teams in a (formerly) Northeast-focused, basketball-first conference. No matter how good or bad each team is, the matchup is always competitive.
All that is coming to an end now. After the Big East saw an avalanche of conference defections, UConn began begging for a way into the Atlantic Coast Conference (and, some would say, the Big Ten) but was repeatedly denied and rejected. Providence and the remaining basketball-only schools eventually said "enough!" and defected from the Big East football schools to return the Big East to its basketball-only roots - moving forward without one of the strongest basketball schools in New England.
On Saturday after the game, when the buzzer sounded throughout Gampel, UConn fans stood and cheered for their Huskies on the floor, watched a montage of UConn highlights from the season, and celebrated the accomplishments that were made on the hardwood despite not being eligible for any postseason this season. But it was all hollow. The game was over, UConn had won, but the win was bittersweet - UConn had lost the foundation that the program was built on - and there are no promises for stability going forward.
And it's more than just UConn's program that's impacted. The meaningfulness of this matchup will be diluted as well. Sure, Providence and Connecticut will more than likely continue to play each other, just as Providence continued to do after Boston College defected to the ACC (something UConn refused to do), but the meaning won't be as strong without that extra excitement that a conference game brings. Sure, there is an argument that the rivalry with a team like URI has as much buzz and meaning around it regardless of what conference those teams play in, but that rivalry is built on a different set of principles than the UConn one. Whether fans on both ends like it or not, the meaning of this game is definitely changing - hopefully not just to dissipate in a few years, because both teams are heading into unknown territory.
Heartbreakers: As for the Friar fans, the loss was a tough pill to swallow. Struggles to execute on offense - especially from leading scorer Bryce Cotton, who only had nine points on 4-13 shooting - and an inability to shut down some of UConn's wild shots resulted in the loss. The looks were as good as ever, but the conversion rate was familiar. In the post with scoring opportunities, the Friars couldn't seem to tap the ball in. Several times Providence went up only to miss right at the rim.
Overtime was the true heartbreaker of the game however. After losing the opening tip to UConn, Shabazz Napier converted on a jumper immediately out of the gate. UConn added a pair of free throws to convert the lead to four before Providence even logged an overtime point. It took four missed shots and three and a half minutes before Providence got a basket. And, after a basket from Josh Fortune, LaDontae Henton converted on both his free throws in the following offensive trip to tie the game up with 45 seconds remaining. Ryan Boatright answered with 19 seconds left to convert on an and-one play to put UConn up three, and Providence now had a chance to answer. Bryce Cotton took the shot, but, like his performance all game, his shot was off and UConn recovered the ball. Shabazz Napier converted on one of two free throw attempts to put UConn up four for the final eight seconds of the game, and there was nothing Providence could do but try to shoot quick back-to-back threes.
Lost the War: Despite winning the game, UConn lost a lot more. The game marked the end of their season for 2013, the end of their Big East tenure, and the end of their New England conference matchups. The Big East started with three New England schools - Boston College, Providence College, and the University of Connecticut - and now all three are in different conferences. But, out of those three, UConn is the only one with true instability. They're in an untested conference with untested members coming in and no natural matchups or rivalries to speak of at this point. Boston College had left for the ACC and was joining a conference already established, and Providence is embarking on a new venture with teams they've been familiar with in-conference for decades now. UConn stands alone with three national championships, four final fours, and one gigantic question mark on what that will all mean for the future of their program.
Almost ironically, during a timeout the jumbo board in Gampel promoted the "best home schedule ever" for Husky football in 2013. Football, if you recall, was what caused this collapse, and there it was - displayed loud and proud during the final game of UConn's marquee program.
UConn had won the basketball game that day, but they had lost everything else.
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