That Defining Moment: UConn 67, Harvard 53
STORRS, Conn. — It happened right in front of me.
The famous Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges once wrote that there is “a single moment — the moment when a man knows forever more who he is.” While smaller in scope than what Borges imagined, most basketball games, too, have one moment that define them, a moment we often cannot anticipate. It may come in the opening minutes of a blowout, or on the last play of the game. Tonight, it happened five feet from my seat on the baseline of a sold-out Gampel Pavilion.
Harvard’s athletic wing Kyle Casey slipped away from his defender with a clear lane to the rim. The pass found his hands and he gathered himself for the leap, coiling for a signature dunk. And he dropped the ball.
UConn’s Jeremy Lamb picked it up, pushed the ball in transition and found freshman sensation Andre Drummond for a dunk thrown down with so much visceral force that the shot clock swayed and finally tilted itself left, as if acknowledging Drummond’s feat.
Before Casey’s turnover, Harvard was in the midst of an 8-0 run which cut the Husky lead from 16 to eight. The Crimson had only trailed by two at the half, using unselfish ball movement and four threes to remain even with Connecticut. But UConn opened the second half on a 15-2 run, their trio of talented perimeter players sinking jumpers and scoring on drives to the basket.
After the Drummond dunk, the lead was 10. A pulse ran through the arena as if the fans, who had been silenced by the Harvard spurt, realized that yes, the day was theirs. The Jeremy Lamb three that followed in quick succession seemed pre-ordained. Harvard’s moment had passed.
The final margin turned out to be 14 points, a victory for a Connecticut team that looks much more dangerous with previously suspended freshman guard Ryan Boatright. In Boatright, Napier and Lamb, the Huskies have a potent set of guards that can all hit perimeter shots and drive the lane effectively. That perimeter ability, combined with Connecticut’s inside presence, will make them a force come March.
With that said, Jim Calhoun still has work to do. The Huskies have the pieces, but they are not yet fully integrated. Connecticut’s offense bogged down for stretches, and they appeared to be most effective when Lamb, whose mid-range game may be the best in the country, simply created off the dribble. While Drummond threw down five thunderous dunks, that was the extent of his offense. The Huskies did not run any offense for him. UConn has the capacity to become an elite team, but they are not firing on all cylinders offensively right now.
The Crimson deserve a large amount of credit. They fought hard all game and, save for Drummond’s freakish athleticism, did not look out of place on the floor with the defending National Champions. While Keith Wright struggled in the post against UConn’s size, Kyle Casey had an excellent game, flashing his new-found outside ability. Brandyn Curry and freshman Wesley Saunders played strong perimeter defense.
More importantly, Harvard played as if they expected to win. Shouldering the outsized expectations brought by the team’s best start in program history and the forum of national television, Harvard did not wilt. Facing a raucous, hostile crowd in a bigger arena, the Crimson held their own.
But that fact is not good enough for this team. I rode the shuttle back to my dorm with five Harvard players at around midnight, having just gotten back to campus. When some Harvard students congratulated them on the effort, they shook their heads. Their expressions said it all: this game would not be the defining moment of their season.