HARTFORD — It's a sound Kevin Ollie has always said he hated: "Pound … pound … pound."
To the UConn coach, it's the sound of stagnation, too much dribbling, not enough passing. The Huskies made too much of this noise in their first loss of the season.
"Just wish we had a little better ball movement," Ollie said after Stanford defeated UConn 53-51 at the XL Center on Wednesday. "Better threes, and wish we could have taken it to the rack a little more and got them in foul trouble."
Stanford (8-2) closed off open lanes and contested shots that had been wide open for the first 8 1/2 games. And the Huskies had no answer. Their signature offensive crispness wilted as the night wore on.
"We didn't make that game-winning adjustment," Ollie said.
The Huskies did the natural thing, they stuck with what was working — penetrate and kick the ball out — until someone showed they could stop it. The Cardinal, in the second half, proved to be that someone.
"Our ball movement was off," said DeAndre Daniels, who led the Huskies with 15 points. "So we were holding the ball a lot. Next time we play against the zone, we need to work on swinging the ball and attacking the gaps. … We're going to have nights when we're not shooting very well. So that's when we have to do other things — pass, get easy layups, get to the free throw line — and that's what we didn't do."
UConn (9-1) played one of its worst halves of offensive basketball in a long time, hitting just 5 of 31 shots, including zero of its 12 three-point attempts, scoring 13 points. The Huskies took so many desperation shots to beat the clock that the crowd groaned.
Shabazz Napier, who has been reliable in putting an all's-well-that-ends-well touch on this UConn season, missed three shots in the final 41 seconds, and his pass to Omar Calhoun for the last shot resulted in another missed three from long range.
"We just had a terrible shooting display," Napier said. "I'm kind of upset with the way I ran the team. I should have made sure we were able to get the ball down low."
As in all sports, it comes down to adjustments and counter-adjustments, the opposing team trying to take away what you do well and force you to win in the manner in which you're least adept. UConn had one effective spurt, the last 4:50 of the first half, and it opened a 10-point lead. The Huskies extended the lead to 43-30 early in the second half. The Huskies hit six of their first 10 three-point tries and were 14-for-29 from the field in the first half, on par with what they had been doing.
Stanford (8-2), which had a size advantage over UConn, went with a smaller lineup, using 6-foot-10 Dwight Powell at center. Powell, who had 15 rebounds, four blocks and two steals, was able to handle UConn's inside game almost by himself, allowing the Cardinal to play their quicker players to neutralize UConn's guards and get out quickly enough to defend the three-point line.
If UConn was unable to attack the basket, the counter-adjustment would be throwing the ball inside.
"The middle was wide open," Napier said. "You could have fit the Pacific Ocean in there, it was so open."
But this, too, is a hole in the Huskies' game that must close. Their committee of big men has not been able to do much when the ball is thrown inside. Against Stanford, Phil Nolan. Tyler Olander and Amida Brimah went a combined 0-for-7 from the floor with eight rebounds, one offensive, in 34 minutes. Freshman Kentan Facey did not play.
"[Stanford] did a good job with their length," Ollie said, "closing gaps, closing up areas. We never got it to the four hole, what we call the middle by the free throw line. We never got in there and exposed that. It was all settle for jump shots, and when you do that and they're not falling, you start pressing."
The Huskies held their own under the boards, being outrebounded, 43-41. But the Cardinal grabbed nearly every rebound during their 14-0 run that changed the complexion of the game.
So it was a frustrating loss, for certain, and for the moment it exposes vulnerability, dampens the enthusiasm over UConn's 9-0 start and reignites the debate about the Huskies' close victories over Maryland, Boston College, Indiana and Florida. Were they because of luck or knowing how to win?
"We're not going to have too many nights where we go 5-for-31," Napier said. "The only way to get better is through your failures."
And, of course, it is just one game. The Huskies have another Sunday afternoon at Washington. They have flown to Seattle and will practice there Friday and Saturday.
"We'll see which guys talk about overcoming adversity, and which guys actually live it," Ollie said.