Storrs - Seven minutes into the second half of Saturday’s showdown, coach Kevin Ollie reached his boiling point.
An irate Ollie unloaded on the officials after senior Niels Giffey drew contact from Louisville’s Wayne Blackshear while attempting a 3-pointer in front of the UConn bench.
No call was made.
Official Mike Stuart tagged the UConn coach with one technical and then another, further angering Ollie who earned his first ejection of his two-year head coaching career. Heading to the locker room, Ollie had to be restrained by director of basketball operations Kevin Freeman.
Too bad the Huskies didn’t play with the same emotion and intensity as their coach displayed during his protest.
Simply put, Louisville (16-3, 5-1) was the better and physically stronger team in the heated American Athletic Conference game at a sold-out Gampel Pavilion.
UConn showed more fight after Ollie exited and associate head coach Glen Miller took over. But they couldn’t catch up after the Cardinals went on a 7-0 run following the two technicals to take their biggest lead, 54-38, with 11:19 left.
The Huskies closed to within seven twice, including 69-62 with 1:40 left, before falling 76-64 at Gampel Pavilion. Ollie’s ejection was the hot topic during postgame.
“I told my guys that in the heat of the moment you can’t lose your composure,” Ollie said. “I did that. We’re going to move on from it and get back to playing good basketball.”
Senior Shabazz Napier led UConn with a career-high 30 points but had little help. Junior DeAndre Daniels, who had 23 points in Thursday’s win at No. 17 Memphis, managed just three points on 1-for-9 from the field, and junior Ryan Boatright added 10 points on 4-for-14 shooting. The Huskies shot an icy 35 percent from the field.
The Cardinals seized the lead about four minutes into the game and gradually built a double-digit advantage. They overpowered the Huskies (14-4, 2-3) inside and owned a decisive 45-30 rebounding edge. They also scored 40 points in the paint.
Louisville sophomore Montrezl Harrell, a 6-foot-8 muscular forward, dominated inside, finishing with 18 points and 13 rebounds, while senior Russ Smith scored 18 of his 23 points in the second half.
“When we play against good teams like this, we’re going to have to rebound,” Ollie said. “We didn’t. … Forty points in the paint is way too many. It’s not like they had Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar out there.”
Entering the game, UConn had a rabid crowd and the momentum of a three-game winning streak on its side. Students began camping out on Friday and roared throughout the game.
But Louisville exploited a weak interior and scored 24 points in the paint in the first half. The Huskies trailed 34-28 at the break. Daniels played just six minutes because of foul trouble and never found his offensive rhythm.
Louisville’s zone sent UConn into a deep freeze. The Huskies bogged down and settled for 3-pointers or rushed attempts late in the shot clock.
Not exactly a formula for success.
“I just thought our aggressiveness wasn’t there in the beginning of the game,” Ollie said.
Harrell powered inside to give the Cardinals the lead at 10-8 and the Cardinals stayed in front until Napier’s 3-pointer tied the game at 34 at the 18:33 mark of the second half.
The Cardinals responded to silence the crowd again. Senior Luke Hancock’s 3-pointer started an 11-0 spurt.
Napier converted four free throws to cut the gap to seven and Blackshear answered for Louisville to make it 47-38.
Then the questionable non-call set off Ollie and ended his night.
Here’s what Stuart said in a statement about the technical fouls: “The first one was reacting to (Ollie) running down the sideline. The second one was (for) coming on the floor to protest the call.”
Ollie apologized to his players after the game.
“We just told him that we appreciated him for having our back and really saying the things that we couldn’t say,” Boatright said. “He showed our emotions, how frustrated we were not getting those calls. … He did the right thing.”
The ejection sparked the Huskies, who began to play harder. They finally started attacking the zone but it was too late.
“When we got down, we started playing a little bit,” Ollie said. “But we’ve got to start the game out with that fire and that passion. I’m still proud of these guys, though. I’m not down on these guys. … We’ll be fine and recover like we always do.”