UConn's first Big East game under coach Kevin Ollie had a little of everything — physical play, dramatic shots and not one, but two, Husky comebacks.
And it had an officials' blunder that all could have done without. But all of this figured into the complexity that was Marquette's 82-76 overtime victory over UConn before 14,159 on New Year's night at Bradley Center, another bit of evidence of the unique grit of this year's team.
"It was a hell of a game for my first Big East game," Ollie said. "I like the fight we showed. We just came up short."
UConn trailed by 10 points twice in the second half and surged back, as Shabazz Napier, who scored 29 points, took over for a long stretch of the game. When Ryan Boatright, who scored 16, hit a jumper with 5.9 seconds left, the Huskies led 69-66 and looked as if they would pull off the upset on a hostile court in Ollie's first road game.
But UConn did not have the chance to set up its defense, and Junior Cadougan hit a 30-foot shot, just beating the buzzer, to tie the game and send it to OT. Marquette was 0 of 14 on three-point shots before Cadougan's make.
Then things got strange. The refs had the team lined up wrong at the start of OT, and Napier scored at the wrong end, with a goal-tending call. When the officials discovered it, they huddled for several minutes, and decided to nullify the points and give Marquette the ball.
Referee Karl Hess, through a Marquette spokesman, said the officials erred. The two points should have counted for UConn, because once such an error is discovered, what transpired on the court is supposed to count.
"That wasn't the deciding factor in the game," Ollie said. "It just got the overtime started in a bizarre way."
Cadougan hit a jumper at the other end to give Marquette the lead, but UConn (10-3, 0-1 in league play) regained it when Napier found Omar Calhoun open for a three-pointer. Calhoun gave UConn a 72-71 lead with 3:18 to go. Then Vander Blue put in a three, off the glass, to put the Golden Eagles ahead for good. They made 6 of 8 from the line down the stretch. Cadougan and Devante Gardner each scored 18 for Marquette (9-4, 1-0).
"We weren't with it in overtime," Napier said. "I was still astonished by [Cadougan's] three-pointer. I should have thought about fouling him quick, get him to the line and maybe we get a rebound."
Brad Autry was coaching Marquette in the absence of Buzz Williams, who was serving a school-imposed suspension for NCAA infractions.
Marquette's beefier front line, and deep cast, figured to give UConn a problem in this game, and the Golden Eagles size and depth did asset itself early. They jumped out to quick 11-to-5 and 14-to-6 edges in rebounding, and that allowed them to take a five- and six-point leads.
But after the first eight minutes, rebounding was about even, as Ollie went with Niels Giffey and Enosch Wolf, although both got into foul trouble.
"We can't get outrebounded like we did in the first half," Ollie said. "I've got to insert somebody in there."
The Golden Eagles got the last word in the half, though, as Steve Taylor Jr. scored on a tip-in and then hit a jumper to make it 30-27. The Eagles were shooting only 30.3 percent from the floor. UConn was only 7 for 12 from the line.
"Our defensive was wonderful in the first half," Ollie said, "but they had 10 more possessions because of the offensive rebounds."
Cadougan opened the second half with a basket to restore Marquette's lead to five. Jumpers by Blue and Chris Otule extended the advantage to 10, at 37-27, as UConn could buy neither a basket nor rebound on its end of the floor. Ollie took a time out, 2:17 into the half, as it looked like things were slipping irrevocably away.
UConn responded. Napier's pass set up an easy DeAndre Daniels' bucket, and Boatright hit a three to make it 37-32. Wolf checked back in and scored a couple of baskets in the paint to help the Huskies pull within two, 40-38, before picking up his third foul.
"They were hitting us first," Wolf said, "and we got angry, so we started hitting them first."
Wolf, playing with three fouls, missed an easy dunk, hanging on the rim as the ball spun out and drawing a call for basket interference. At the other end, he picked up his fourth foul and had to come out. That turned the game back in Marquette's favor and the Eagles restored their lead to 10 when Jamil Wilson's jumper made it 52-42 with 12:24 left.
Again, UConn made a run, Napier hitting a three to get it back within five. Napier took over the game at that point, scoring 11 points in a four-minute stretch, hitting a three to tie it at 57 with 6:21 left.
UConn took the lead, as the teams began trading scores, and the lead, down the stretch.
"The veterans have been in that predicament before," Napier said. "So we know that you don't quit. We have to concentrate on not getting down so much."Copyright © 2015, CT Now