Did that game feel fixed to you? It felt fixed to me. But we knew that would be part of it. After all, it was Cincinnati, with an interim head coach, playing at the XL Center in Hartford against Connecticut, the defending national champs. If UConn gets knocked out early, who the hell’s gonna fill the stands for the semifinals and championship game, right?
Now before I get deeper into this, I’ve got to throw some credit UConn’s way. Ryan Boatright made the game-winning shot. He did it. Nobody made it for him. He jumped up and made it. My hat’s off to that kid. Phenomenal player. Closest thing to Allen Iverson I’ve seen since Allen Iverson. Also, the Husky coaching staff and players deserve credit for taking Cincinnati’s hottest player, Farad “Big Shot” Cobb, out of the flow of the game. Cobb finished just 2-for-8 from the field with 7 points.
That said, this game reeked of a stacked deck against UC.
Let me interject (can you interject in your own article?) with a quick explanation of the headline I chose to use for this post for those of you who have never played Mike Tyson’s Punch-out!! for Nintendo. Punch-out!! is a game in which you, a challenger named Mac, have to win 13 fights, moving up from easy to moderately tough to difficult, until you get to Mike Tyson. And as you can imagine, Tyson is as difficult as it gets.
The Bearcats having to play a desperate UConn team (they need to win the whole American Conference tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament) on the Huskies’ home floor is basically equivalent to trying to beat Tyson in Punch-out!!
Now, when you battle Tyson, in order to not get knocked out in the first thirty seconds of the fight, you better have a game controller in working order, because you’ll need to be able to dodge haymakers and then recover quickly enough to sneak a couple of uppercuts in before the next haymaker’s a-comin’. But, if your controller isn’t working properly, it’s damn near impossible to survive the first round, let alone actually win the fight.
In my opinion, the way that game was officiated on Saturday night equates to a broken controller. The “benefit of the doubt” was so far swayed in UConn’s favor that your mind couldn’t help but drift into “Is this game fixed?” territory.
I hate to be That Guy who complains about the refs when my team loses. And look, we knew the Bearcats (and the Bearcats themselves had to know) that no calls would be going UC’s way in a game like that. Also, it’s not like the Bearcats didn’t make some costly mistakes. But dude, the disparity between things going UConn’s way and things going UC’s way was eeee-normous.
Off the Top of My Head
Here’s what I remember on the morning after…
– Troy Caupain had three drives to the bucket that resulted in turnovers:
1) First half – Troy drove down the right side of the lane, jumped up, a defender slid under him, he made the shot, the baseline official began to make the signal for a blocking foul, but before he could make the call, he was overridden. And we knew some other official was calling a charge. Hoop wiped off, UConn ball.
2) Second half – Two in a row. Troy drives right from the left wing, Rodney Purvis (my least favorite non-Xavier player in college basketball right now) grabs Troy’s shoulder, the ball comes loose—no call. UConn gets the loose ball. Next play, Troy drives to the hole, 7-footer Amida Brimah meets him in the air with his arms down and a big body bump, gets the ball clean up top—again, no call.
That’s a potential seven points UC could have had.
– The old “shot fake and drive from the 3-point line” travel call:
You know this one. In college, when a guy catches the ball, pump fakes and then drives the ball, it’s at the referee’s discretion as to whether the player shuffled his feet before putting the ball on the floor. UConn had 5 or 6 of these types of drives in the game, yet miraculously never once walked! They just must have superb footwork, huh? And then, late in the game, Caupain pulled the same move, but of course HE traveled. Get the fu** outta here.
– Gary Clark posted up late in the game, the entry pass was made to the middle by Kevin Johnson, Gary sealed off Daniel Hamilton who went for the steal, then wrapped his arm around Clark. Clark caught the ball, Hamilton then blatantly reached in. No call on either action. Clark, a strong bull for a freshman, gathered and went up strong, finished the bucket amidst MORE contact, this time on his arm as he released the shot. Still no call. Three fouls on one play, none whistled.
– Shaq Thomas came up with a sweet chase-down block on Purvis, which was ruled goaltending. Replays showed that it sure was not goaltending.
The ‘Yeah Right’ List
This is a list of stuff that made you say “Yeahhh RIGHT!”
1) UConn only had THREE turnovers, huh? Seemingly every time UC got a deflection on defense, the ball bounced directly to a Husky player. Sure it did.
2) All UConn did all night was chuck threes. 30 of ’em to be exact. At the 12:22 mark of the 2nd half, Purvis hit a 3, and then UConn made 5 of their next 6 from distance. Sure they did. (But still UC answered that barrage of bullsh*t (Tyson haymakers) and hung in there. That’s a good sign and a testament to the Bearcats’ toughness.)
3) Caupain banked in a 3 with the shot clock running down midway through the second half. Lucky, maybe, but in the overall scheme of the world as Bearcat fans know it, Troy’s banked 3 was probably UC’s first banked 3 after at least ten banked 3’s by opponents. And the way this game was going, it seemed like “yeah, we f***ing deserve one of those.” Like it didn’t even feel cheap in any way.
But could we enjoy it? Of course f***ing not. Because with 3 minutes to go in a tie game, with the shot clock at one second, Daniel Hamilton banked in a 3 from even further out! Annnnnnd, for the record, Hamilton had already f***ing banked in a 3 against UC THIS YEAR.
Can’t make this stuff up.
But Still, UC Showed Major Toughness
In a game like that, the Bearcats were able to get several leads and answer haymakers. Oc Ellis was extremely physical down low. Shaq Thomas was all over the glass—-all 10 of his points were second chance points. Freshman forward Gary Clark, who was a non factor in the regular season game in Hartford (except for that big right-handed hammer all over Boatwright’s family), showed good toughness, putting up 9 points and grabbing eleven rebounds.
UC did not win the ballgame. In that kind of situation, the Bearcats probably needed to play well enough to win that game by double digits in order to win by a bucket. In reality, if we’re being fair, UC played well enough to win the game by probably 5 or 6 points, and with the way things went, that wasn’t enough to get the W.
But I think we need to applaud UC’s effort, toughness, resiliency, and refusal to back down. The Bearcats were up against a force larger and Higher than they’ll ever be able to realize. UConn goes on these postseason runs. They’re improbable, they’re impressive, and in a way, these postseason runs appear to be divine. I mean really, how many times can a UConn guard make a step-back game-winning jumper? 50? 75? A million?
Did the Bearcats make mistakes on Saturday night? Sure they did. 11 turnovers isn’t a ton, but four or five of those were pretty careless. Although the defense was stout (UConn shot 38% from the field), there were a few times when Bearcat players left UConn shooters wide open and paid the price. And then there was the curious substitution late in the first half of freshman Quadri Moore, which played a factor in UC going scoreless for nearly the final 3 minutes of the half.
That said, even a blind man could tell that something wasn’t right in that game. Yet despite all the quote-unquote bullshit, the Bearcats fought hard, hung tough, traded haymakers and showed that although it’s a young team (in Division I college basketball years), this UC team will be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament.
Sure, the Bearcats may lose in the first round, but it’ll take a monumentally strong effort from the opponent and the breaks not going UC’s way for that to happen. I’m riding with Gary Clark and Oc Ellis. I’m going to war with Troy Caupain and Farad Cobb. I’m walking into the lion’s den with Coreontae DeBerry and Shaq Thomas. I’m showing up for the bout with Jermaine Sanders and Kevin Johnson in my corner. And I’m sleeping well at night as Mick Cronin, Larry Davis, Darren Savino and the rest of the staff draw up the battle plans.
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