LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The smiles that dominated their faces just 48 hours before were long gone, replaced by blank stares, hollow looks of embarrassment.
And "embarrassment" was, indeed, the word of the night, following UConn's 80-59 drubbing at the hands of Louisville before 21,804 at the KFC Yum! Center on Monday night. Every Husky who spoke used it.
"It's embarrassing," Alex Oriakhi said, "we took a butt-whipping and we didn't fight back. It's very frustrating."
The Huskies hung close for a half, playing hard, diving for loose balls as they did in their win over Seton Hall on Saturday, but in the second half they became laughingstocks for the raucous crowd. Louisville scored 51 points, opening a 30-point lead, doing whatever it wanted.
"We basically gave up," said Ryan Boatright, who scored 18 and at times looked like the one UConn player still playing hard.
With coach Jim Calhoun still ailing and absent, and probably watching at home, the Huskies (15-8, 5-6 in the Big East) continued the painful process of playing their way out of the NCAA Tournament less than a year removed from winning it. They have lost seven of 10 games, and five of six, and of their seven remaining games, two are against Syracuse and one against Marquette, both ranked higher than Louisville (19-5, 7-4).
The Cardinals, who have won five in a row, are getting it together for a March run. They hit 11 of 25 three-point shots, out-rebounded UConn 45 to 36 and had 22 assists on their 32 baskets.
"They're having a lot of fun playing the game, and that's what college basketball is all about," coach Rick Pitino chortled. "That was a display of passing, fast-break and defense of the likes I haven't seen too much."
Pulled together by a team meeting called by Oriakhi last Friday, UConn responded with an inspired effort to beat Seton Hall at the XL Center on Saturday, but the togetherness and good feelings of that game did not travel well, not against a much tougher opponent in its own, hostile setting.
Still, with Boatright doing a lot of penetrating, the Huskies coped with Louisville's zone press, played solid defense in the first half and rallied to take the lead, 15-14, on DeAndre Daniels' tip-in with 7 minutes, 51 seconds to go. Oriakhi, who was in at center, threw down a dunk to put UConn up by three with 5:16 left. Louisville, though, closed the half with six quick points to take a 29-24 lead, and it was but a prelude of what was to come.
The Cardinals outscored UConn 41-16 to start the second half.
"They made [seven] threes in the second half, shot 50 percent and embarrassed us," said associate head coach George Blaney, subbing for Calhoun. "… That's not the way we play. That's not the thing we've been working on. … I hope [the players] are embarrassed."
It appeared the Huskies were. Jeremy Lamb, who was 3-for-9 from the floor, said softly, "I can't put the ball in the hole. … I can't make an open shot."
Andre Drummond, who picked up two early fouls, was 0-for-6, scoreless for the first time since the first game of the season. "I think he had a freshman night," Blaney said.
Shabazz Napier hit 3 of 11 shots, all drives, and was again so far off from the perimeter, the students began chanting "air ball" whenever he touched the ball.
"Everybody's pissed off," said Oriakhi, who had 11 points and seven rebounds. "We can't just play good for a half. This was a little step back for us."
Chris Smith led Louisville with 16 points. Gorgui Dieng, who gave it a go with a sprained ankle, had 15 points and six steals. Freshman Chane Behanan had seven points and 12 rebounds.
"I thought we were in good shape at the end of the half," Blaney said. "We came out in the second half, didn't box out a couple of times and just kind of turned them loose."
The Huskies, down 70-40, scored 19 points during garbage time. Roscoe Smith finished with 10 points.
The road gets rougher for UConn. They play at Syracuse, ranked second in the country, at the Carrier Dome on Saturday. A big crowd is expected for that game, many of the tickets purchased when it was assumed it would be a marquee matchup between the league's pre-season co-favorites. It looks like a much different game now.
"We're not a bad team," Blaney said. "We just played bad in the second half. I think we've got enough kids that are good enough to lead."