By DOM AMORE, email@example.com
The Hartford Courant
6:33 PM EST, January 15, 2013
Now comes the test. Up until now, it had been mostly exuberance, wins, upsets and close defeats for UConn.
Then the Huskies ran up against the No. 1 team in the nation and were taken down. They have scars and bruises. Were they taken out? That's what needs to be determined over the next few days.
"You can't control events, but you can control the meaning of events," coach Kevin Ollie said after UConn's 73-58 loss to Louisville at the XL Center on Monday. "This is a tough game, you take positives out of it and try to build on that. Focus on the good things we did in the first half, playing our type of basketball and try to duplicate that. And then look at the second half and see what went wrong, when we gave them a spurt."
Bouncing back from tough losses, as the Huskies have done, is one skill. Rebounding from a blowout is a different one. It's new for this particular group. They must reclaim their mojo over the next few days.
"You can't get bogged down," Ollie said. "[Louisville] can frustrate you with the pressure. When you're shooting 26 percent [in the second half] and they're shooting 60, that's frustrating for me and I know it's frustrating for players. But life goes on. We're going to bounce back, execute and prepare like we always do."
Of course, there is little to be embarrassed about, losing to an experienced team, one that went to the Final Four a year ago and had risen to the top of the polls the day of the game. Louisville is likely the best team the Huskies will face all year, and when this season began, few would have thought this game would mean anything by the time it arrived. That it created such buzz is a testament to how well the Huskies have done, compared to expectations.
UConn has 14 games left to do something with this unusual season, and the challenge is to keep this loss from snowballing into a losing streak, which can happen so often in a power conference such as the Big East. The Huskies play at Pittsburgh on Saturday.
"You can definitely learn a lot from a game like this," said freshman Omar Calhoun, who scored 20 against the Cardinals. "We haven't played a team like that, it was a test for us. We're probably not going to play another team that presses like they do."
Louisville's pressure defense gave the Huskies far more trouble than they have had before. Through the first 15 games, UConn had never trailed by more than 10 in any game, and its three previous losses were competitive: by six to New Mexico, four to North Carolina State and in overtime at Marquette.
For the first time, UConn looked overmatched. The Huskies were dominated for a long stretch – 10 consecutive possessions without a score and 9:02 between field goals in the second half. The Huskies were outscored by 25 points over the final 24 minutes.
"We didn't do a great job of coming to the ball," guard Shabazz Napier said. "When guys are getting trapped, a lot of guys are backing up and I think we have to do a better job of helping that guy out and get close to the ball."
Future opponents will certainly try to simulate what Louisville did, though few have the players Rick Pitino has. Pittsburgh (13-4) is 1-3 in the Big East, with a game at Villanova Wednesday, but has the best assists-to-turnover ratio in the country, at 312-to-160.
UConn's guards, Napier and Ryan Boatright, were taken out of their offensive rhythm. They will have to find it again before flying to Pittsburgh at the end of the week.
"I think we'll have hard practices," said Napier, who injured his left shoulder. "I'm going to go back and work harder. When something like this happens, I work harder until I'm satisfied, and I'm never satisfied."
Ollie: The Tolland Fund
Ollie is one of 48 coaches, 12 in each region, competing in the Infiniti Coaches Charity Challenge. He has chosen The Tolland Fund, which supports the rights of people with disabilities to participate in sports and recreation. The winner of the online vote in each region receives $100,000 for his charity; each coach is guaranteed $5,000. To vote, visit espn.com/infiniti. The winners will be announced March 11.
Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant