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SMU has UConn's number

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published February 24. 2014 4:00AM
Fred Beckham/AP Photo
Shabazz Napier of UConn looks to pass as SMU's Markus Kennedy and Shawn Williams, right, defend in the first half of Sunday's game at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. SMU won 64-55.
Mustangs' defense halts Huskies' winning streak

Storrs — UConn ran into a defensive stonewall on Sunday afternoon.

The Huskies didn't survive the collision.

After 40 frustrating minutes, they walked off the Gampel Pavilion court with a 64-55 loss to Southern Methodist University, which swept the season series.

The defeat stopped their winning streak at four games and kept the Huskies (21-6, 9-5) in fifth place in the American Athletic Conference standings with four regular season games remaining.

"It was just a bad (game) for us," junior Ryan Boatright said. "It happens to everybody."

It's almost impossible to win when you shoot a season-low 29.6 percent from the field, and that's what No. 21 UConn did against a stingy defense that ranks second in the nation in field goal percentage defense. The Huskies had as many turnovers (16) as field goals (16) overall.

"Tough game by us," coach Kevin Ollie said. "Coach (Larry) Brown had those guys ready to play. … We out-rebounded them, but you can't shoot 29 percent. I look at my starters, man, there was a lot of missed shots. … You just can't win like that.

"We've just got to play more solid on the offensive and defensive end and learn from it. That's about all you can do from this type of game. We've got to be a tougher-minded team, and we just weren't that today."

UConn's shooting numbers were ugly, as its three leading scorers - Shabazz Napier (5-for-16, 15 points), DeAndre Daniels (2-for-10, six points) and Boatright (3-for-12, 15 points) - misfired badly. The starting five went an icy 11-for-44 overall.

Only reserve Niels Giffey (4-for-6, 11 points) converted more than half of his field goal attempts. The Huskies lost for the first time this season when winning the rebounding battle, holding a 36-31 edge.

Simply put, SMU (22-6, 11-4) is a bad matchup for UConn.

Brown, a Hall of Fame coach, drew up a smart game plan. The backcourt of Nic Moore (15 points) and Nick Russell (15) controlled the game. Forward Markus Kennedy (13 points, seven rebounds) provided the inside muscle.

A tough-minded, disciplined defense is at the heart of the SMU's success. The Mustangs came into the game limiting opponents to just 61.6 points. That's why they were able to secure a significant road win.

"We beat a great team," Brown said. "So much tradition here and a great crowd. We had to play our best by far on the defensive end to do this and I think we did."

UConn lacked energy and struggled from the start, missing its first five shots and committing six turnovers before scoring its first basket. The Huskies never led but only trailed 27-25 at intermission.

It was an ugly first half, as both teams committed 11 turnovers and shot the ball poorly.

"We came out lackadaisical in the first half," Ollie said.

While SMU eventually found its offensive rhythm, UConn stayed out of tune. The Huskies actually shot a lower percentage in the second half (7-for-28, 25 percent) and quickly fell behind by nine (40-31).

The Huskies too often settled for jump shots and handed out only seven assists. They also failed to rotate the basketball and seek out second and third offensive options during possessions. Russell, a long 6-foot-4 guard, frustrated Napier, who started to force bad shots and had five turnovers. SMU also packed the paint to limit penetration.

"They're tough defensively, but you've just got to move the basketball," Ollie said.

UConn suffered through an eight-minute drought without a field goal in the second half but stayed within striking distance by playing sound defense and winning the rebounding battle. Napier's pull-up jumper cut the deficit to 54-49 with 4:38 left.

After Daniels missed a 3-pointer, SMU's Sterling Brown answered with a huge three to deflate the Huskies.

In the end, SMU played with more emotion and intensity.

"It's a setback, obviously, because we lost," Boatright said. "I don't think we played a bad game as far as things we really need to work on. I think we did everything well. We just didn't make shots. We even executed plays. We just missed the shot at the end."

g.keefe@theday.com

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