Maybe it was A.J. Price’s lack of finding the open man.
For a guy who averaged nearly five assists a game this season and over five during the tournament, Price only dished out one against Michigan State—on the Huskies' first possession of the game.
Maybe it was the Huskies all around dismal perimeter offense. Craig Austrie and Price, both seniors, combined for over 100 three-balls during the season. Against the Spartans, they were a combined 1-5.
The lone three-pointer was hit less than three minutes into the first half by Mr. Price. The Huskies were 2-6 on the night from behind the arc; athletic freak Stanley Robinson made his only attempt less than five minutes into the first half.
No. It wasn’t Price’s lack of assists. It wasn’t the Huskies’ not hitting three pointers that ended their title run. What was the cause of this most epic meltdown: missing 12 free throws.
There’s a reason it’s called a “free” throw. It’s supposed to be a guaranteed point. It’s supposed to be the easiest shot in the game. It’s supposed to be the most fundamental and one of the first things a young basketball player learns from his first basketball coach.
For whatever reason, the Huskies could not hit from the line against the Spartans.
Free throw shooting was the achilles’ heel for Jim Calhoun’s squad this year. The Huskies made 552 free throws this year, third in the Big East and 23rd in the nation. But they were also 14th in the country in getting to the line, and when they did, they only hit the shot 67.7 percent of the time, which made them worse than over 150 other Division I schools.
Out of the five starters against the Spartans, only Price and Austrie average better than 70 percent from the line, and that’s not even that good.
The seniors were 6-6 from the line that night, and Robinson, who averaged just 63 percent from the line, hit all four of his attempts. The rest of the team did not follow suit. The rest of the team shot 11-23, a mere 48 percent.
Calhoun’s gameplan all season has been driven by getting the other team into foul trouble early. It worked against the Spartans. The Huskies got into the bonus with nearly nine minutes left in the first half.
They were in the double bonus with over two minutes left. In the second half, the same thing happened. They got into the bonus at around the same time-mark as the first half, but they were in the double bonus for over four minutes left when they were trailing 66-58.
The Spartans were in foul trouble the entire game it seemed. Five players had at least three fouls, three of which were starters, one of which was their best player, Goran Suton, one of which was their second leading scorer of the night, Raymar Morgan, one of which fouled out with less than two minutes left in the game, Draymond Green.
Despite all of that, the Huskies could not capitalize.
At the end of the night, the Spartans had seven more team fouls than the Huskies, and 13 less attempts from the charity stripe. However, getting 13 less attempts is usually neutralized when the other team misses 12 of their attempts.
It’s hard to swallow a loss of this magnitude knowing that you simply gave it away. This game was for the Huskies’ taking. It was right there—all night. Sorry for being so very blunt about this, but key players just did not step up.
Jeff Adrien, a man who is the most intense player alive who always plays as hard as possible, missed four of seven attempts from the line. Sure, he only averages about 60% anyway, but in your last game of your college career, how can you not put the ball in the net?
Kemba Walker, coming off of a career break-out game against Missouri, was 1-6 from the line at one point and finished 3-9. He averages over 70 percent and hit 9-10 against the Tigers to send the Huskies to the Final Four.
I don’t know what to say about him. Maybe he got cold feet. Maybe he remembered he was a freshman and the entire college basketball world was looking at him. Maybe he glanced at the baseline while shooting his foul shots and notice “Final Four” painted in enormous letters and that made him kinda nervous.
Whatever the case may be, Walker could not find his rhythm at the line.
Now, I know that I’ve bashed the hell out of the team I love, the team I adore, the team I will defend at great lengths against whomever so chooses to disrespect them.
But here’s the thing; they bailed on their season. They shot 22-33 from the line that night—and I can’t even tell you how many of those misses were front-ends of 1 and 1’s that could have turned into more attempts.
Had the Huskies made more foul shots early on, it would have been a different game completely. The Spartans could have been chasing us in the closing minutes.
The Huskies could have had the momentum. The Huskies could have attained an 11 point lead with less than three minutes to go. The Huskies could have been playing the Tar Heels Monday night for the National Championship.
I’m sure Calhoun is more upset than I am. I’m sure the team itself is more upset than I am. I’m sure many UConn fans are more upset than I am, although when the game was over I tore every UConn poster off my wall and ripped them into a million tiny piece in a fit of rage.
I actually jumped against my life-size Thabeet/Price poster and ripped it down with my hands and teeth. I landed on the floor on my back and proceeded to rip apart the two men's picture with every ounce of energy I had left. I then threw the pieces in to the hallway, just to give you a mental picture of my anger.
I’m sure there are experts out there that saw this coming. I’m sure they knew that horrid free-throw shooting would ultimately hault my beloved Huskies in their tracks. I’m sure they predicted that Walker would go cold from the line and from the field in the biggest game of his career.
I’m sure of a lot of things. But I’m not sure if I even want to wear my Jeff Adrien jersey around campus anymore. I’m not sure if I should return my UConn Final Four t-shirt. I’m not sure if UConn will be in title contention again while I am a student here.
I’m not sure if Thabeet will stay, if Robinson will stay, or how our team will look next year with the players that do stay.
I’m not sure if I will EVER talk to a Michigan State fan the rest of my life. I can add them to a list of fans from Duke, Syracuse, and, sonofabitch, George Mason.