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UConn men dig too big of a hole in loss to Pitt

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published January 20. 2013 4:00AM

Pittsburgh - UConn went from dead and buried, to a nearly miraculous recovery, to dead again Saturday afternoon.

It was part Horror Show, part Husky Show.

Sophomore Ryan Boatright gave a fitting description of what transpired in a 69-61 loss to Pittsburgh in a Big East battle at the Petersen Events Center.

"They came out and jumped on us and hit us in the mouth," Boatright said. "We dug ourselves too deep of a grave to climb out. We did a good job climbing out, but we died trying to get out of it."

The Huskies emerged from a dreadful funk to fight back from a 14-point second-half deficit and tie the game for the final time with just over four minutes left, but failed to execute down the stretch. They lost consecutive games for the first time this season.

Boatright led the way with 20 points.

"They took it to us in the first half," coach Kevin Ollie said. "You can't spot a good Pittsburgh team 13 points. The second half, our guys came out and responded the right way and got in the game. We got a tie twice, but we couldn't get a stop at the end."

"We can't do that. … We've got to play for 40 minutes. I thought we played 20 (minutes). You can't do that in the Big East."

Ollie was in a sour mood, and for good reason.

This was a winnable game for the Huskies (12-5, 2-3), even with leading scorer Shabazz Napier limited by a sore left shoulder.

The Panthers (15-4, 3-3), who've been inconsistent this season, were the more aggressive team at the start.

"It was a 12 o'clock game," Napier said. "A lot of guys were sleepwalking."

UConn looked lost trying to solve an active 2-3 zone, got beaten badly on the boards and gave up too many second-chance points on the way to a 35-22 halftime deficit.

"It was an embarrassment," Ollie said.

Not until Ollie tore into the Huskies at halftime did they finally respond.

"He just challenged us and told us we had to play with some heart and fight," freshman Omar Calhoun said.

Calhoun (14 points) and Boatright sparked the comeback. After going 1-for-7 and scoring four points in the first half, Boatright went 6-for-12 and had 16 points after intermission.

It took a great deal of effort and energy for the Huskies to recover from a 47-33 deficit with 14 minutes left and finally catch up. They went on a 22-8 spurt.

"Our coaching staff didn't come up with any magical formula, it was just being tough," Ollie said.

In full attack mode, Boatright scored five straight points and Napier buried a 3-pointer to cut the gap to 55-53. Junior Niels Giffey stole the ball and scored off a breakaway dunk to forge a 55-all tie with 4:37 left.

Boatright's natural 3-point play tied the game again at 58-all. But that would be UConn's last field goal.

The Huskies had trouble defending the pick-and-roll, leaving shooters open including James Robinson, whose 3-pointer put the Panthers ahead for good with 3:42 remaining. The Panthers closed the game with an 11-3 spurt. Junior Lamar Patterson led a balanced Pitt with 14 points.

"I'm proud of them coming back," Ollie said. "But at the end of the game, when we needed stops, I think the last five possessions we got scored on four times. You can't have that happen."

The usual issues plagued the Huskies, who were outrebounded 38-27 and allowed 15 offensive rebounds that generated 16 points. After going 7-for-24, they converted 15-for-26 from the field in the second half.

Napier, who struggled dribbling the ball with his left hand, played 34 minutes. He scored just eight points - well under his 17.1 pointer per game average - on 2-for-7 shooting.

"I felt like I couldn't penetrate as much and I started resorting to shooting a lot of threes," Napier said.

UConn is off this week, not playing again until hosting Rutgers on Jan. 27.

"It's good for everybody," said Napier of the break, "but it's a good thing for me.

g.keefe@theday.com

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