"When you continue to miss shots and can't get into a good rhythm, it's going to be very tough to win anywhere on the road in the BIG EAST," said Providence coach Keno Davis.
The Friars, coming off a strong showing and their first "signature win" of the season against 15th ranked Syracuse, hoped to continue their recent success against the Huskies. Going into Saturday's contest, Providence had won their last three against UConn.
Both teams, besides for the win and its long-term prospects, had something important to play for. UConn, with a win would secure the nation's No. 1 ranking, the Friars, if they won, would have likely found themselves in the top 25 for the first time in five years.
It was evident from the start that these two teams did not like each other. The Huskies, a perennial national power were likely getting sick of the conversations of their shortcomings against the Friars. UConn coach Jim Calhoun had this one circled, even moved on campus to the much more raucous Gampel Pavilion.
This one was a tale of two very different halves. The first twenty minutes saw a lot of back and forth, as both teams got reacquainted. This was a match between two of the Big East's most experienced squads. The Connecticut defense flexed their muscle early, blocking four shots in the first four minutes of the game.
It seemed that the Friars had to struggle for every single basket. Luckily they were able to knock down some three pointers and capitalize on a few fast breaks. As in more of the recent contests, Providence was able to drive to the basket. Unfortunately for the Friars, there to meet them was Hasheem Thabeet. The Huskies blocked 17 of the Friars shots, 10 of them in the first half. Thabeet had 10 of his own, finishing the contest with a triple-double, 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 blocks.
Even with all of that, the Friars held their own in a back-and-forth first half. After several ties and lead changes, PC, led by an impressive 10 point first half performance by Jon Kale, trailed by four 38-34 at the break. Had there been anyone other than the impressive Thabeet playing down low, this might have been a much different story. The Friars were getting their looks, but each time they were turned away with tremendous authority.
The Friars just could not connect on their shots from the perimeter as they had in previous contests with the Huskies. In order to win against these shot-blockers, a high three-point percentage is key.
"When you continue to miss shots and can't get into a good rhythm, it's going to be very tough to win anywhere on the road in the BIG EAST," said Davis.
Something happened at half time. The Friars, who had looked persistent and determined in the first half came out flat after the break. The Huskies jumped out to a big run, pushing the deficit into the double digits. Thabeet, joined by AJ Price who had 19 points and Stanley Robinson who had 18 began to pummel the Friars who seemed to have no answers or energy to speak of.
Things continued to worsen as one-by-one the fouls began to pile up for the Friars. Kale, Weynemi Effejuku, Randall Hanke, and Geoff McDermott all had to play with caution in the second. This only fueled Connecticut's offensive fire.
As Davis and the Friars called timeout after time out to regroup, the Huskies continued to get stronger. There was no stopping them in the second half. As Yogi Berra said, it got late very early for the Friars as frustrations mounted and the lead widened. The nail in the coffin was perhaps a technical foul called on a visibly flustered Geoff McDermott. McDermott, it seemed was unhappy with the lack of fouls called on UConn defenders in the paint. The technical brought the Huskies lead to twenty, and they never looked back.
Connecticut would go on a 20-0 run at one point in the half. Their lead reached the upper 30's at its peak. In the end, the Friars were handed a 94-61 thumping. The Huskies enjoyed every minute of it, taunting the Friars, pumping their chests and snickering in their direction. Thabeet, Price, Robinson, and the entire Connecticut team finally defeated their New England rivals.
Though this was a "reality check" for the Friars, it should be put into perspective. Providence is a much better team than this game shows. They simply ran into the best team in the country who clearly had something to settle with them. Things just spiraled out of control.
UConn coach Jim Calhoun acknowledged this in the post-game, ""Providence is an experienced team, they stayed poised for the most part and they have some work to do, but could easily be in the tournament in March."
The Friars should use this loss as a motivator. They'll need to pick themselves up off the mat, dust themselves off, and get to work. At the end of the day, it is only one loss. They're still 14-7, 6-3 in the conference. They are still very much in the hunt for a spot in the dance.
There is much to be done. It starts Wednesday at the Dunk, when they face yet another nationally ranked team, Villanova. The Wildcats are one of the three teams the Friars play twice in Big East play. This makes this contest all the more vital. Achieving a split against this team will surely boost PC's resume come March.
"We need to have a short memory," said Davis. "There can be no dwelling, I talked with my team after the game, the discussion is over, it's behind us and we will never speak of this game again. We need to look forward and get ready to go home and play well."
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