Meltdown at The Rock

NEWARK, N.J. – Jim Calhoun will be reunited with his Connecticut basketball players at some point on Wednesday. The Huskies haven't seen their Hall of Fame coach since Christmas night, so they have a lot of catching up to do.

Rest assured there will not be a lot of praise passed around for the victories recorded over South Florida and St. John's during Calhoun's three-game NCAA suspension. Those are ancient history.

But Calhoun undoubtedly will have a lot to say about what happened at the Prudential Center Tuesday night. Eighth-ranked UConn (12-2, 2-1 Big East) got spanked hard for the first time this season in a 75-63 loss to Seton Hall (13-2, 2-1) at "The Rock."

This one is fresh and there is a mess to be cleaned up before the Huskies play at Rutgers Saturday night. Who knows? Calhoun might have intercepted the team bus at a rest stop somewhere along the Jersey Turnpike Tuesday night, then taken off in a search for a gym to hold practice after the stroke of midnight.

Yeah, it was that bad.

"We came out real well and then they came back and kind of punched us in the mouth a little bit," sophomore forward Tyler Olander said. "We failed to punch back for the rest of the game really."

When was the last time the Huskies didn't punch back? Even in that memorable 70-67 home loss to Notre Dame to end the regular season last March 5, the Huskies put together a 15-0 run and led 61-60 with less than six minutes to play.

This time the Huskies fought back – to trail by nine.

"[Seton Hall] played with a lot of fight and I thought they took the game to us," said associate head coach George Blaney, who completed this substitution stint for Calhoun with a 2-1 record. "For the first four or five minutes I think we scored 11 points and then another 11 the rest of the way in the first half.

"I can't remember since I've been here any of our teams that have shot 35 percent [20-for-57]. I'm sure it has [happened], but I certainly don't remember it."

Give credit to the Pirates for playing with passion, playing physical, and punishing UConn inside and outside. Seton Hall led by 13 at the half and by 21 with one minute, 32 seconds remaining. If basketball had a mercy rule, it would have been used.

But the Huskies really need to forget about all the numbers, look in the mirror and ask themselves why they played so out of character. If they aren't disturbed, then there's something wrong.

"We have a lot to work on, but it also was a bad game," said Jeremy Lamb, who led the Huskies with 19 points. "Even if we had played good, we probably still would have a lot to work on."

Second-year Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard tried to downplay the fact that the Pirates hadn't defeated UConn since 2001.

"I've got three Europeans," Willard said. "They don't know where New Jersey is. It's the truth. I didn't know until yesterday when [somebody] told me."

But there's no denying this was a landmark victory for Willard's young program. Seton Hall came into the game fourth in the RPI used by the NCAA. Beating the defending national champions – and doing it with authority – should be enough to elevate the Pirates into the national polls for the first time since January 2001.

Point guard Jordan Theodore led the Pirates with 19 points and forward Herb Pope added 15. But this was a total team effort with Fuquan Edwin and Aaron Cosby each scoring 12 and Brandon Mobley coming off the bench to contribute eight big points.

Then there was the defensive effort by Seton Hall. Willard said the Pirates played seven possessions in man-to-man. The rest of the time it was a zone that befuddled the Huskies and erased the beautiful passing game UConn had exhibited against St. John's on Saturday.

"We really wanted to shut down [Shabazz] Napier," Willard said. "You watch them and he really is a catalyst. He is a heck of a player and we knew it was tough to stop Lamb. He comes off so many screens, he's got such great range, and you kind of almost have to pick your poison.

"He was a much more important person to stop because Lamb is going to get his [points]. You have to try to stop one of them and we really tried put two people on Napier at all times."

The Huskies bolted out to an 11-2 lead before four minutes had been played. Three-pointers by Napier (six points, four assists, five turnovers), DeAndre Daniels (three points) and Lamb gave UConn that nine-point lead after Pope had opened the scoring with a spinning jumper in the low post.

UConn was lucky to be within 13 points at halftime, trailing 35-22. Without 45.5 percent shooting (5-for-11) from three-point range, the Huskies would have faced a bigger deficit. The Huskies had only two points off the fastbreak and were outscored 18-6 inside the paint in the first 20 minutes.

They also had 13 turnovers, which Seton Hall converted into 12 points. The consensus opinion was that the Seton Hall played a very physical game. Lamb told reporters – more than once – that the Huskies "couldn't' get no calls."

"I think some of them we got fouled and didn't get the call, we turned it over and some of them we just made bad passes," Lamb said.

Blaney had a different observation.

"We wound up taking a lot of shots at the end of the shot clock and [our offense] was very stagnant," Blaney said. "I just couldn't get them out of it. So, I'm not happy with my performance either."

Lamb was 5-for-7 from the field and 3-5 from three-point range to score 13 of UConn's 22 first-half points. The rest of the Huskies were 3-for-16 from the floor in the first half.

UConn had to work mightily just to reduce Seton Hall's advantage to nine points at 45-36 with 12:24 left. But the Pirates responded by hitting four consecutive three-pointers – three by Theodore and one by Cosby – and the lead was on its way to 17.

Theodore, a 38 percent shooter from three-point range, was 3-for-5 against UConn, had 11 assists and four turnovers. The home crowd was electrified by his play. And the Huskies were out of punches.

"Coach Blaney just told us that we've got to fight back," said Niels Giffey, who came off the UConn bench for 11 points – the second highest total of the night for UConn. "Most of the guys have been here and been in big games. We've got to have a good game against Rutgers. That's the main thing we're focusing on right now."


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