The impossibility of an undefeated season in the American Athletic Conference was assured a couple of weeks ago with a loss to Cincinnati at FedExForum. But the Tigers’ 83-73 loss to Connecticut here on Thursday, Jan. 16, was historic.
Shaq Goodwin cut UConn’s lead to just one late in the game, but the Huskies went on a tear afterwards to put the game away.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
It marked the first time the Tigers had lost consecutive conference home games since the 2004-2005 season when the Tigers lost to Louisville and Cincinnati with John Calipari as coach and the NIT as the team’s postseason destination.
Things aren’t that dire for the University of Memphis this season, which was ranked 17th at the time of the UConn game and dropped to 12-4 and 3-2 with the loss. It was just a week earlier, after all, that the Tigers won at then-No. 12 Louisville.
So yes, the Tigers are good enough to beat a ranked team on the road. And in this league – the anti-Conference USA – a team that’s not ranked can be good enough to beat the Tigers at home.
“We’re not ranked (so) we don’t think we’re better than nobody,” UConn guard Shabazz Napier said.
“They were the more focused team,” Tigers guard Geron Johnson said. “They were better than us today.”
More specifically, they were better in the second half. That’s when UConn, trailing, 40-39 at halftime, got serious and outrebounded Memphis 20-8 over the last 20 minutes. The score tied, 62-62, with 5:22 to play the Huskies outscored Memphis 21-11 to close out the victory.
Forward DeAndre Daniels had a game-high 23 points and 11 rebounds and Napier, despite an uncharacteristic horrible 3-point shooting night – 1-for-8 – finished with 17 points and handed out 10 assists. Guard Michael Dixon’s 16 points led Memphis.
Not surprisingly, the view from the visitors was that success came by changing the pace. Memphis finished with just two fastbreak points.
“They were not comfortable” with a slower pace, Napier said. “They’re a super-fast team. You don’t want to play their speed.”
Cincinnati played slow and physical. Result: a Memphis loss. Louisville played faster. Result: A Memphis win. UConn adjusted; even to the point that Napier said he passed up a couple of opportunities to push the ball.
“I told the guys to just relax,” he said.
If only Tiger fans could take that advice.
So, the Tigers are now 3-0 on the road in the AAC and 0-2 at home. It’s not what anyone envisioned. But maybe it should have been. UConn was ranked in the Top 25 for about two months – or until they opened league play with losses at Houston and SMU.
“We got our first road kill,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said.
Meanwhile, the Tigers need their first league home win. They get their next opportunity on Thursday, Jan. 23, when Houston comes to town. The Cougars have beaten UConn but lost big to Louisville.
“This is a hard place to win,” Ollie said.
He meant for the visiting team, but for now it cuts both ways.