Champs No More

LOUISVILLE - The rollercoaster ride for the defending national champions is over. A season that began with high expectations, then dissolved into distractions and disappointment, ended with a crushing blow when Iowa State defeated the Huskies 77-64 Thursday night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament's South Region.

In uncharacteristic form, the Huskies let this postseason game get away in the first 12 minutes when Iowa State shot 68 percent and jumped out to a 22 point lead at the KFC Yum! Center. UConn battled back to cut the lead to six with just over eight minutes to play.

But the Huskies then went scoreless for almost six minutes. Iowa State scored seven unanswered points and put the game away at the free throw line where the Cyclones hit 19 of 20 attempts.

"I'm as surprised as anybody," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "I imagine our players are too. Iowa State showed up at a different speed, a different level than what we we played.

"There weren't too many ways in which they didn't beat us tonight. It's very disappointing to end the season this way."

UConn (20-14) became the first defending national champion to lose its first NCAA game in the following season since 1996 when UCLA fell to Princeton. It's only the fourth time the defending champ has exited this early.

Since Calhoun first took UConn to the tournament in 1990, this is only the second time in 18 tries that the Huskies have lost their opening game in 2008, the Huskies lost in overtime 70-69 to San Diego in the first round in Tampa, Fla., when guard A.J. Price tore his ACL in the first half.

UConn had won 10 of its last 11 NCAA games. And the 13-point margin of defeat was the largest for a UConn team since 2000 when the Huskies fell in the second round to Tennessee 65-51 one season after winning their first national championship,

Guard Shabazz Napier led the Huskies with 22 points and six assists but shouldered the blame himself after the game.

"They came out and threw the first punch," Napier said. "We weren't ready for it. It's my fault I didn't get my guys ready for the game. We lost the game in the first half when we got down 22 points. You do that in the NCAA Tournament, more often than not you lose the game."

Iowa State (23-10) hit only six three-point shots but all of those came in the first half as the Cyclones built their lead. Guard Chris Allen, with more experience in the NCAA than any other player in this tournament, led the way with 20 points. Royce White came up huge with 15 points and 13 rebounds, Guard Scott Christopherson also had 15 points.

Iowa State, making its first NCAA appearance since 2005, advances to Saturday's third round to play No. 1 seed Kentucky, an 81-66 winner over Western Kentucky on Thursday.

"I really thought we set the tone in the first 10 minutes," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. "The ball was really moving around. I thought a big key to that was getting the rebound, pushing the ball up, having great spacing and playing very unselfishly. When we do that, we're a pretty good team."

Twice in the second half the Huskies cut the lead to eight only to see the Cyclones get baskets and fouled for three-point plays. Guard Ryan Boatright made only four shots, but three were consecutive baskets in less than two minutes and he finished that run with a three that made it 58-52 with 8:21 left.

But that was the closest UConn got.

"Once we cut it to six, I felt if we dug down a little deeper and tied it up, maybe it was going to crack," Boatright said. "I felt like they had made their run and it was our time to make our run. But they made plays at the end and we didn't."

The uncertainty of the future hung over the UConn locker room after the game. As the players quietly tried to absorb the loss, nobody seemed to know what this team will look like next season.

Sophomore Jeremy Lamb (19 points) and freshman Andre Drummond, who fouled out with two points and three rebounds, are projected as high NBA draft picks.

"I haven't really decided what I'm doing yet, but as of right now, I'll be back," Drummond said, repeating the same thing he has said all season.

There may be other departures or transfers if UConn is ruled ineligible for the 2013 NCAA Tournament because of its poor academic performance.

"Some people will leave; some people stay,"' Napier said. "I don't know. I'm not sure."

The first 12 minutes of the game were an absolute disaster for the Huskies. UConn, which started the season ranked No. 4 in the nation, didn't execute any of the things they talked about during preparation for the Cyclones and Iowa State threatened to blow the Huskies out of the arena.

"I told you guys they could shoot," Drummond said."They made the shots that counted the most."

Calhoun used his first timeout with 18:38 left in the half after Alex Oriakhi lost track of White and Allen fed the Iowa State big man for an easy basket. It was White's second basket of the game and gave Iowa State a 4-2 lead.

Calhoun would use two more timeouts in the first half. One came agter Christopherson hit a three to give Iowa State a 14-6 lead. Christopherson triggered the next stoppage as well, hitting a three to expand the lead to 34-14 with 8:45 left before halftime.

"They ran the ball down out throats," said Oriakhi, who had two points and three rebounds. "This year, we expected a lot and we fell short."

That Christopherson basket was part of a 16-0 run for the Cyclones. Iowa State hit four threes in that stretch, including three consecutive. Allen, the Michigan State transfer who was playing in his 15th NCAA Tournament game, started the run with a three to make it 23-14.

He hit another with 9:20 to go, between threes by Christopherson. Anthony Booker had the other two baskets and finished the run with a follow shot – a third follow shot for the Cyclones – to make it 36-14.

"I feel like we just wanted it more," Allen said. "When I say wanted it more, I mean rebounds. We out-rebounded them by almost 20 (41-24). That's a great stat line."

The Cyclones hit eight of their first 11 shots and were shooting 68 percent when the lead grew to 20. They cooled off a bit and UConn played better defense in the final seven minutes of the half. But Iowa State still finished the half 17 of 33 (51.5 percent) and 6 of 12 from three-point range.

Napier, who had 12 points and six assists in the first half, sparked a 12-0 run by the Huskies and UConn trimmed the lead to 10 at halftime. A basket by Lamb made it 42-32 at the break.

It certainly didn't help the Huskies that Drummond picked up his second foul with 12:57 left in the half. He went to the bench and, in the regular season, he would have stayed there the rest of the half. But Calhoun went back to Drummond with 7:29 left and the Huskies trailing 38-16. The rest of the way he played timid.

"I don't think any foul situation had anything to do with the game," Calhoun said. "The game was the fact they played 40 minutes hard and fast. At times we came back and played pretty good basketball.

"But we played sporadically. And that was the game."


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