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Hartford - In the aftermath of UConn's latest loss, sophomore Shabazz Napier had some stinging words for his teammates.
A blunt Napier questioned their toughness and heart in the locker room and to the media following a 79-64 loss to No. 12 Marquette Saturday at the XL Center.
The wildly inconsistent Huskies failed to overcome lapses during critical stretches, falling to 4-9 in the last 13 games and further jeopardizing their chances for an NCAA tournament bid.
"Sometimes we look like we're coming over the hump and then we face a good team and we all let up," said Napier, a co-captain. "One thing I hate to say is, I've got to question a lot of these guys' hearts."
Napier was particularly upset with the way the Big East game ended, as a defenseless UConn allowed easy baskets. The Huskies (16-10, 6-8) went from trailing by eight to losing by 15 in the final four minutes.
"It just looked out there like we gave up at the end," Napier said. "It's tough to say it because we're a great team. For those words to come out of mouth is just horrendous. … When push comes to shove, it's who's out there and who's going to give it back.
"… We get punched and some guys throw pillows back. You're not supposed to throw pillows back. You're supposed to go get a three-pointer and lock up on defense and do the necessary things to get a win and right now we're not doing that."
Right now, UConn is no match, physically or mentally, for elite Big East teams like Marquette (22-5, 11-3). The undersized and athletic Golden Eagles never trailed, running their way to a 14-point halftime lead and rolling behind the senior dynamic duo of Darius Johnson-Odom (24 points) and Jae Crowder (a career-high tying 29). Marquette outscored UConn from the 3-point line (10 to 4) and foul line (21 to 12).
Sophomore Jeremy Lamb led UConn with 19 points and Napier had 11 points and eight assists.
"I was (ticked) off in the second half," junior Alex Oriakhi said. "I'm tired of getting embarrassed like this and I said, `let's fight.' I definitely think we fought but we didn't fight until the end."
Frustration is building inside the UConn camp. The Huskies are falling apart instead of banding together during key moments.
The best example came about four and a half minutes into the second half. After trailing 43-29 at halftime, UConn made some adjustments, increasing the defensive intensity and crashing the boards.
Oriakhi, who along with Andre Drummond battled foul trouble, grabbed a rebound and dunked to cap a 10-1 run. His basket cut the deficit to 48-44 and ignited the home crowd.
Heading into a timeout, UConn freshman Ryan Boatright was called for a technical foul when an official overheard him talking to Marquette's Todd Mayo.
It turned out to be a five-point play, as Johnson-Odom converted both free throws and Crowder buried a 3-pointer for a 53-44 lead. The Huskies never got closer than five the rest of the way.
"I thought the technical foul really changed the game," associate head coach George Blaney said. "And we didn't recover from that very well."
Blaney declined to elaborate on the call. Napier had strong words for his teammate.
"It's just immature," Napier said. "He didn't do it on purpose."
A blown call didn't help either.
Trailing 67-59 with 5:42 left, official Bob Donato called the ball out of bounds off of UConn. The replay clearly showed the ball deflected off Marquette.
Then Crowder buried a killer 3-pointer.
The Huskies have little time to regroup, visiting Villanova Monday in Philadelphia.
It's difficult to know what impact Napier's comments will have on his teammates. Leadership has been an ongoing issue.
One thing that is for certain, time is running out for UConn, which has just four regular season games left.