Published December 19. 2013 4:00AM
Hartford- This was just the kind of game that UConn has managed to win all season.
The Huskies have always found a way to hang on and pull out the cliff-hangers.
Not on Wednesday night, though.
No. 10 UConn finally lost its grip after winning four games by two points or less this season.
Not even senior Shabazz Napier could rescue the Huskies and save them from falling from the unbeaten ranks, dropping a 53-51 decision to Stanford at the XL Center.
“My hat’s off to them,” coach Kevin Ollie said. “They came in and needed this win. … This is going to be a good resume win for them. It’s a bad loss for us. … We didn’t take care of business. Hopefully, we learned from it.”
UConn’s sputtering offense contributed to its demise.
Coming off a 12-day exam break, the Huskies (9-1) converted a season-low 31.7 percent from the field, including sinking just five of 31 attempts (16 percent) in the second half during which they scored just 13 points.
Stanford’s size and extended zone clearly bothered the Huskies, who settled for too many perimeter shots and misfired on all 12 3-point attempts in the second half. UConn settled for too many perimeter shots instead of attacking the basket.
“We got in our own way tonight,” Ollie said.
Even with their struggles, the Huskies still had a great chance to steal a win. But Napier misfired three times inside the final minute, failing to hit two 3-pointers and hitting the rim on a tough fade-away jumper from about 16 feet with eight seconds remaining.
After Stanford’s Josh Huestis missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw with seven seconds left, UConn raced down court trailing by two. Napier passed off to sophomore Omar Calhoun, whose deep 3-pointer sailed off the mark at the buzzer.
“It kind of came down to the wire and I wasn’t able to knock down a shot,” Napier said. “None of us were actually able to knock down a shot. I’m kind of upset with how I played in the second half and the way I ran my team.
“I really felt like this was going to be a good win for us. But I didn’t come through.”
It’s hard to blame Napier, who’s delivered his share of big shots this season. UConn had only one field goal in the final 7:58 and that came from junior DeAndre Daniels whose tip-in cut the deficit to 52-51 with 2:09 remaining. Daniels had a team-high 15 points.
But Ollie didn’t care for Napier’s shot selection, especially in the final minute. Trailing by one, Napier attempted consecutive 3-pointers over Stanford’s zone, the second one with 33 seconds left. Both shots bounced out.
“I wanted him to go to the basket,” Ollie said. “With Shabazz, you live with that, because he’s put the team on his back a lot of times. … But he settled for the long three ball.”
Huestis converted one of two free throws, giving UConn life again. But Napier missed his jumper with eight seconds left. After Huestis missed the front end of a 1-and-1, Calhoun’s game-winning attempt was short.
The Huskies followed a familiar pattern, building a double digit lead before allowing an opponent fight back.
They created some distance by going on a 14-3 run to end the first half and grabbing a 38-28 lead. They extended the gap to 13, 43-30, with 16:48 remaining.
But then they allowed Stanford to get back into the game. Junior Chasson Randle (22 points) fueled a 14-0 run. His 3-point play handed the Cardinal (8-2) a 44-43 lead. UConn’s scoring drought lasted over six minutes.
“Like we’ve been doing, we played in spurts and let a team back in,” Ollie said. “Once they smelled that they could play with us, they took it to us.”
The Huskies kept misfiring. Randle’s runner pushed the Cardinal in front for good, 50-49, with 6:15 remaining.
UConn had no answers, as it suffered its first non-conference home loss since Jan. 20, 2007, ending a streak of 54 straight wins. Napier (12 points, eight assists) and backcourt partner Ryan Boatright combined to shoot 7-for-24 from the field.
Next up is a road game at Washington on Sunday. The Huskies will board a flight today probably still thinking about what transpired on Wednesday.
“We just played a bad second half and it caught up to us,” Napier said. “We’ve just got to look at what we did wrong and move forward.”