College Basketball

Far from heartbreak for the defeated Huskies

By Sean Quinn

Part of it was George Mason. OK, a lot of it was George Mason. Still, long before the Patriots slipped on the glass slipper, nobody was rooting for the Connecticut Huskies – not even themselves.

The Huskies had as much talent as any team in the country, but they were as heartless as the girls that rejected me in high school. 
Their top six players will all get drafted in the first round whenever they decide to come out. At least two of them, Marcus Williams and Rudy Gay will be lottery picks. Yet, this team was missing something. Or perhaps more than one something.

The Huskies lacked consistency. Well, every team lacks consistency at some point in the season. Even Final Four-bound Florida struggled down the home stretch before winning nine in a row. But this was a different inconsistency. UConn trailed with less than 10 minutes left in three of four NCAA Tournament games. It wasn’t because they were inexperienced. It wasn’t because they were taken out of their game. It sure wasn’t because they were struggling. Teams with this much talent don’t struggle against teams like Albany. They trailed because they didn’t try.

They seemed disinterested in what was going on. Marcus Williams may have been eyeing some new laptops on press row. Rudy Gay may have been wondering how on earth Gerry McNamara beat him out for the distinction of the conference’s most overrated player. And maybe Hilton Armstrong was still growing.

This team lacked emotion. The starting five combined had nowhere near the kind of passion we saw in Adam Morrison’s eyes during the opening round of the tournament. Nor did you feel for any Husky the way you felt when Morrison’s eyes swelled up with time still on the clock in the Zags’ loss in the Sweet 16. Sure, Armstrong and Denham Brown didn’t have the walk-off ovation that J.J. Redick had in Duke’s loss to LSU. We didn’t get to see if there was any pain in the UConn seniors’ eyes. But the lack of heart this team exhibited made you not really even care if there was.

Connecticut seemed more like the cruel-hearted 1980 Russian hockey team than the free-spirited, lay-it-all-on-the-line Americans.

The Huskies just relied on their ability to get them a win. They didn’t have to play for 35 minutes because they could overcome any deficit if they showed up for the last five. After all, they do have six future NBA first-rounders. That theory worked against Albany. It didn’t work against Washington but they won anyhow. And it didn’t work against George Mason. Jim Calhoun knew it wouldn’t work because Cinderella always shows up well in advance of the five-minute mark in the second half.

Let’s not forget that it’s a good thing to expect to win. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, all the greats expect to win. It’s repulsive, though, to expect to win without earning it. Cheering for a team like that, a team like UConn, is like rooting for Paris Hilton to get more money.

Soon most of the Huskies we saw on the floor Sunday will be earning millions. It seemed that most of them were already there. They weren’t living for the moment, the shot at going to the Final Four. The Patriots were like kids in a candy store, while the Huskies felt no shame stealing candy from a baby.

There was no doubt, there still isn’t a doubt that Connecticut is more talented than any team in the Final Four. But in March, talent isn’t enough. It wasn’t enough for Duke, Memphis or Villanova. And even though UConn had more talent than any other No. 1 seed, they lacked heart. In the tournament, heart always beats talent. It did on Sunday, anyhow.

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