Facing a crossroads Wednesday night at the Joyce Center, UConn played as if it was oblivious to the opportunity at hand and lost to Notre Dame 58-50 before a sellout crowd of 9,149. And it was ugly.
Box Score: UConn at Notre Dame
"Nearly every fundamental known to mankind," coach Jim Calhoun said.
Turnover-plagued UConn, its play underscored by an 18:04 stretch in which the Huskies were outscored 26-6, closes the regular season Saturday at South Florida. Win or lose, the Huskies (17-13, 7-10 Big East) will have to put on quite a show at the Big East tournament to receive NCAA Tournament consideration. They have lost two in a row after an inspiring three-game winning streak.
Jerome Dyson picked the worst time for one of the worst performances of his career. He had 10 points on 2-for-14 shooting and committed five of UConn's 15 turnovers.
"Fundamentally, we were so unsound, from a coaching standpoint it was embarrassing," Calhoun said. "It isn't just Jerome's fault. We, as a team, weren't very good tonight. We needed a total team effort and, quite frankly, we got a total team effort. Unfortunately, it wasn't very good."
Kemba Walker led the Huskies with 15 points. Stanley Robinson, who had scored in double figures 35 games in a row, had six points and five rebounds. Gavin Edwards had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
There was nothing serviceable from the post players beyond Edwards. There was no way for the guards to drive to the basket as Notre Dame clogged the lane. Was the Huskies' offensive futility born of their zombie-like body language, or the other way around? It doesn't really matter.
"It looked like we didn't care," Edwards said.
Notre Dame (20-10, 9-8) has won three in a row — all without leading scorer and rebounder Luke Harangody, who missed a fifth consecutive game with a bone bruise in his right knee.
"We certainly have a very powerful resume now," coach Mike Brey said. "We're a strong, strong candidate. We're going to keep working and keep doing things. But in three games, we've certainly put ourselves in position."
Tory Jackson led Notre Dame with 22 points, scoring 20 in the second half. Carleton Scott had 12 points and Farmington native Tim Abromaitis 10 for Notre Dame, which committed just seven turnovers in the game and opened the second half with a 17-4 for a 34-24 lead. The Irish worked the shot clock and squeezed UConn on both sides of the ball.
"There was nothing we could do," Robinson said. "We could have played harder ... but they wore us down."
UConn led by 10 early but by just three at halftime, 20-17. If members of the NCAA Tournament selection committee were watching, they might have fallen asleep. The Huskies better hope so. They didn't surpass their season low in points (48 vs. Cincinnati) but did with 17 field goals.
UConn made 13 of 15 free throws. Notre Dame made 17 of 27. Had that not been the case, UConn would not have been able to cut the deficit to six in the final minute. Calhoun said afterward that he's not surprised by anything with this team — its flashes of brilliance or performances like this.
"How do you tell a kid, "Get a rebound and don't throw it to the scorer's table,' or 'Don't throw it to half court where there's two guys with white jerseys'?" Calhoun said. "I'm not sure what teaching point — I must have missed the early lessons of Coaching 101. Yet, to be fair to them, I'm the coach. ... I fully take responsibility."
UConn is one loss away from equaling the record of the 2006-07 Huskies, a team that missed the postseason. As the Huskies walked off the court, the rowdy student section chanted "NIT! NIT!"
"They took their back off the wall," Calhoun said. "And we put ours squarely into a big, big corner wall."