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UConn nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback Saturday afternoon.
But the Huskies couldn’t overcome an awful first half.
After tying the Big East game twice late in the second half, UConn faded in the final four minutes, losing to Pittsburgh, 69-61, at the Petersen Events Center.
“We knew it was going to be a dogfight…,” coach Kevin Ollie said. “They played aggressive, and I kept telling them it was going to be like that. We weren’t able to withstand them. They hit us in the first half.
“In the second half, our coaching staff challenged them, and they responded. You can’t let a great team like Pitt get a lead of 13 points on their own court.”
Sophomore Ryan Boatright had a game-high 20 points.
The Huskies fell to 12-5 overall, 2-3 in Big East play.
Some post-game news, notes and quotes:
-- Junior Shabazz Napier was limited by a sore left shoulder. He was cleared to play only hours before the game.
“Shooting wise, I felt a little hitch in my shoulder,” Napier said. “I was told I was able to go so I went out and tried my best.”
Napier had trouble dribbling with his left hand and resorted to taking 3-pointers. He went 2-for-7 from the field overall. All but one shot came from 3-point land. He finished with eight points, three rebounds, two assists and two turnovers in 34 minutes.
“It was a little tough,” Napier said of playing with his injury. “There was discomfort after awhile.”
His teammates noticed a difference in Napier’s play.
“His shoulder is messed up,” Boatright said. “Anybody can tell he wasn’t himself. He’s going to need to get healthy as fast as possible.”
When asked about how the injury limited Napier, Ollie responded: “He was out on the court. He was 100 percent.”
-- UConn played perhaps its worst first half of the season. The Huskies didn’t do anything right. They were out-rebounded (23-15), gave up 14 second chance points, shot the ball a miserable 29 percent (7-for-24) and played shoddy defense.
The Huskies trailed 35-22 at the break.
“We came out so flat,” Boatright said. “There wasn’t any intensity in the whole squad.”
The second half was an entirely different story.
UConn out-scored Pitt, 39-34. The Huskies shot 57.7 percent (15-for-26) and held the Panthers to 40.9 percent (9-for-22). They also did a better job on the boards but still ended up with a 38-27 overall deficit.
“In the second half, we responded like champions,” Ollie said.
-- Ollie stressed that UConn’s pick-and-roll defense has to improve. The Huskies got caught out of position too many times, leading to open shots.
“We’ve got to get better, because every team is going to run pick-and-roll,” Ollie said. “It’s been around for years. … It’s the toughest thing to guard. And if we don’t get better and we don’t do it with players on the court, we’re going to be in trouble.”
-- It was another bad day for UConn’s frontcourt.
While junior Enosch Wolf made an offensive contribution with six points, he had zero rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench. Starting forward Tyler Olander had a team-best six rebounds and four points in 23 minutes.
Forward DeAndre Daniels had just five points and no rebounds.
-- This was the final meeting between UConn and Pittsburgh as members of the Big East. Pitt is leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.
“Since I’ve been back, we’ve had some wars and memorable games,” Ollie said “We’re going to miss them. More power to them. I know our AD and president are going to get us in the right position… We’re going to be in the right spot soon, I really believe that.”
-- Pitt’s bench out-scored its UConn counterparts, 20-10. Reserves Trey Zeigler (eight points) and Dante Taylor (six points, seven rebounds) made the biggest contributions.
-- Pitt coach Jamie Dixon on his team’s win: “Down the stretch, I thought we came up with the rebounds. I thought we defended well and hit free throws obviously, and we got a couple of big jump shots by a number of different guys.”
After the Huskies tied the score at 58-all, the Panthers finished the game with an 11-3 run.
-- For the second straight game, freshman Omar Calhoun was one of the few bright spots on the offensive end. Calhoun finished with 14 points and five rebounds.
“I feel like I’m getting better,” Calhoun said.
-- UConn fell to 1-6 against Pitt at the Petersen Events Center.
-- Former UConn standout Donyell Marshall attended the game.
-- The Huskies are off until hosting Rutgers on Jan. 27.
Today’s American Athletic Conference Championship semifinal doubleheader is underway here at the XL Center in Hartford. A crowd in the 12,000-13,000 range is expected for the UConn-Tulsa game. Tip-off time is 5 p.m.