By Brian Hamilton
On Wednesday, a water main broke on Connecticut’s campus. A large portion of one of the main arteries that delivers fans to Gampel Pavilion, North Eagleville Road, was shut down and a laboratory building flooded. A contractor installing a utility pole caused the damage.
Fitting, then, that Connecticut had issues because of digging a hole.
Fitting, then, that the evening was about plugging a very sizeable leak.
So it went actually, in different ways and places, for Connecticut, Kansas and Kentucky. A series of bounce-back moments for a trio of marquee names somewhat hovering just below relevancy at the midpoint of the college basketball season , the first two redeeming themselves just in time for challenging stretches and the last one preventing a faceplant before it happened.
And then there was the most poignant recovery of all, nearly out of sight Wednesday: Georgia coach Mark Fox, head bowed and crying into his hands, attempting to process an overtime upset of Missouri after burying his father just one day earlier. The Bulldogs ended the Tigers’ nation-best 26-game home win streak, though the semantics hardly mattered.
“My Dad was a real tough son of a gun,” Fox said after the 70-64 win. “I got a little emotional in the first half and I caught myself. I thought, ‘I am going to get my butt chewed when I get home.’ I just tried to compose myself and keep our team on the right path.”
And then there is the matter of North Carolina, which veers this way and that and lost 63-57 to Miami and makes our head hurt, so more on that later.
Had it come to pass, Connecticut’s might have been the least forgiving flop, never mind the best Harvard start since World War II and the Crimson being more than formidable. They were also a little less capable on Wednesday, with leading scorer Wesley Saunders sitting out with a knee injury that will keep him idle indefinitely, per coach Tommy Amaker’s postgame media debriefing.
What was very serious was just how Harvard would limit Shabazz Napier without Saunders, as that was going to be his job. And then Connecticut and Napier did a fine job limiting themselves in the first half, committing 11 turnovers. Napier contributed three of those miscues, hit just two field goals, and the Huskies faced a five-point deficit at the break.
A team that had lost two straight on a swing through the Texas schools of the American Athletic Conference simply could not suffer a stumble against a team weakened at precisely the spot vulnerable to Napier and Ryan Boatright. And it didn’t, clamping down defensively to wrest control back midway through the second half and then getting back-to-back 3-pointers from Napier late once Harvard had cut it to two late. When the Crimson had a chance to tie with nine seconds left, a final, aggressive smothering of the perimeter ensured they would not. Siyani Chambers introduced himself to everyone with 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting for Harvard. But the 61-56 win and a visit from Central Florida should get Connecticut feeling right for showdowns against Memphis and Louisville that follow.
“Our recovery is getting better,” Huskies coach Kevin Ollie said after the game. “Down in Houston, we couldn’t recover in a couple of instances, but we recovered tonight. Every run they had, every three-pointer they had, we challenged them and we played our type of basketball.”
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