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HARTFORD, Conn. -- Shabazz Napier had his chances. He was so confident that the Connecticut Huskies would score, he even he passed on the final one, opting for a more open Omar Calhoun.
But none of them dropped for Napier, Calhoun or No. 10 UConn against the Stanford Cardinal's enveloping 2-3 zone. Not much went well in the second half as the Huskies went from leading by 10 at the half to a brutal 13-point, 5-for-31 shooting second half and lost for the first time this season 53-51 to a hungrier and more desperate Stanford team.
What happens next for both teams in their ensuing games -- Stanford against Michigan on Saturday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn and UConn at Washington on Saturday in Seattle -- could say a lot about their ultimate chase for a high finish in their respective conferences.
"We just had a bad shooting second half,'' said Napier, who entered the game as one of the national front-runners for national player of the year but had a mortal, 2-of-7 3-point shooting night. "We've got to get ready for Washington.''
UConn coach Kevin Ollie said earlier Wednesday he was approaching the Stanford game as a road game. He mirrored the scheduling to his time in the NBA in which the next day would bring a long trip. The Huskies are scheduled to leave Thursday for Seattle to get adjusted to the time change. UConn had lived on the edge to climb to No. 10, winning last-possession games against Maryland, Boston College, Indiana and the most thrilling one over Florida two weeks ago at Gampel Pavilion on a buzzer-beating, midrange shot by Napier.
|Stanford's Chasson Randle led the Cardinal in its upset win over UConn on Wednesday with 22 points.|
The Huskies, though, were exposed a bit by Stanford's zone. Not every team will choose the style against UConn nor have the length the Cardinal guarded Napier with as Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins put Anthony Brown and Chasson Randle on Napier, a decision Dawkins said was a necessity to win.
But the Huskies will need to solve their interior issues if they are to win in Seattle, as well as stay with Louisville, Memphis and Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference over the next three months. The Cardinal's length, Ollie's primary concern, was a factor that allowed Stanford to continue to limit UConn's second- and third-shot opportunities.
"This was huge for us,'' Stanford's Josh Huestis said."We knew inside our locker room we could compete with anybody, but not until you prove it.''
Stanford whiffed on its previous big games, giving up 112 points and losing at home to BYU on Nov. 11, getting blown out in the second half against Pittsburgh in the Legends Classic and fading from the list of any Pac-12 contenders as Oregon, Colorado and Arizona State all had at least one win to stand up and shout about.
"This was one of those big moments,'' Dawkins said. "This was big not just for us, but also for the Pac-12."
Dawkins was well aware the Cardinal needed to do their part to raise the profile of the conference. Beat Michigan in Barclays and suddenly Stanford, which lost senior guard Aaron Bright to a season-ending shoulder injury after the Pitt game, has to be taken seriously in the NCAA-bid chase.
Beating the No. 10 team in a true road game gives the Cardinal a signature win they coveted. Sweeping this second road swing to the East Coast can be a season changer. UConn has to make sure its season doesn't swing the other way on its road trip.
This was one game that showed the Huskies can look one dimensional, while the Cardinal proved they can diversify. UConn needs to make sure this was more of an anomaly, while Stanford must hope this is its norm.