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Kevin Duffy: UConn couldn't overcome bad breaks

Updated 11:38 am, Wednesday, January 2, 2013

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  • Marquette's Junior Cadougan (5) reacts to his 3-pointer that tied the score at the end of regulation against Connecticut in their NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, in Milwaukee. Marquette won 82-76 in overtime. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps) Photo: JEFFREY PHELPS, Associated Press / FR59249 AP

    Marquette's Junior Cadougan (5) reacts to his 3-pointer that tied the score at the end of regulation against Connecticut in their NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, in Milwaukee. Marquette won 82-76 in overtime. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

    Photo: JEFFREY PHELPS, Associated Press

 

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MILWAUKEE -- As Enosch Wolf will tell you, games aren't lost on one play.

They are, however, lost on a bunch of them: Junior Cadougan's 30-footer to force overtime, Vander Blue's banked 3-pointer in the extra session, Wolf's missed dunk, his ticky-tack fourth foul and, of course, the bizarre goaltend wiped from the box score.

"It happens," Wolf said.

True, but it shouldn't happen in a Division I basketball game. Not a mistake like this: UConn and Marquette lined up incorrectly, or the referees lined them up incorrectly and failed to fix it. Call it either way. Then, Ryan Boatright hit Shabazz Napier on a backdoor cut for a layup that was goaltended by Marquette's Jamil Wilson, and an utterly confusing minute or two followed. In the aftermath, the Golden Eagles were awarded possession, and the score remained tied, 69-69.

"That didn't cost us the game," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "It was just an unfortunate play."

Afterward, the referees would admit the degree of misfortune, as Big East official Karl Hess conceded: "The players went in the wrong direction (tonight). Because we allowed that to happen, the only thing that was wrong is there was a goaltend on the play.

"We should have scored the goaltend and given Connecticut two points."

It would have, without question, changed the complexion of Tuesday's Big East opener, handing the momentum -- and the lead -- to the Huskies.

By now, we all know that these Huskies, and this coach, will not make excuses. It's not in Ollie's nature, and UConn, which has battled back from double-digit deficits against Quinnipiac, New Mexico and now Marquette, has absorbed the persona of its rookie coach.

"I don't know what kind of rules (the refs) based it on," said Niels Giffey, "but they make mistakes, too, during the game."

Save for about five brutal breaks, UConn should have left the Bradley Center 1-0 in the Big East. How many times do referees screw something up so royally? How many banked 3-pointers will Vander Blue make the rest of the year? How many dunks will Wolf miss?

And how about Cadougan, who entered the game shooting 16.7 percent from 3-point range? If there has been a "you've-got-to-be-kidding-me" moment this season, that was it.

But if we're taking the UConn approach, we've got to look at it the other way, too: Up three with 5.9 seconds after a wild Ryan Boatright turnaround, UConn should have fouled. Ollie admitted it. But Marquette didn't call timeout, Boatright and Napier gave Cadougan space and -- what do you know? -- that ball found the bottom of the net.

"I didn't have a chance to tell Boatright to foul at that time," Ollie said.

Should he even have to, though? Is that something that a heads-up player should know beforehand? It's easy to sit at a keyboard and say it now, not so easy to remember in the heat of the moment.

"I thought about that when I sat on the bench," said Shabazz Napier, who, in another brilliant effort, tied his career high with 29 points and also pulled down eight rebounds. "That's one of those plays that I obviously saw on TV one time. That's one of those smart coaching plays. And that's me and Boatright's fault. We should have thought of that as soon as he knocked down the shot."

Napier "zoned out and forgot how much time was left." Forgot that UConn could have fouled and avoided the heroics of a horrendous 3-point shooter.

But, as they say, one play doesn't lose a game.

Really, we can do this all day: Wolf missed an uncontested dunk. You can call it bad luck, or you can call it bad ups. Either way, it happened. You can't take it back.

Kevin Ollie and his players don't live in the "coulda, shoulda, woulda" world. Thirteen games in, there are certain truths about UConn: Shabazz Napier will bring it; he's one of the best guards you'll find. He won't make excuses this year, either: "It wasn't the officials' fault," he said of Cadougan's buzzer-beater, "it was myself not thinking."

UConn, like any team, will commit mental and physical errors, but it won't lose due to lack of effort or mental toughness: Napier reeled off 11 points in less than three minutes to even the score, 57-57. Niels Giffey battled on the boards with Marquette's Devante Gardner, about 80 pounds heavier. Wolf did, too. Omar Calhoun, without a field goal through 40 minutes, drilled a big 3-pointer in overtime.

At the Husky Run in October, Ollie said he wanted opponents to leave the floor saying, "Damn, why are they playing so hard?" The Huskies succeeded in that regard Tuesday.

But the Golden Eagles also could have left saying, "Damn, we got away with one." And for a myriad of reasons, they'd be right.

kduffy@newstimes.com; @KevinRDuffy