|A frustrated George Blaney watches the Huskies crumble in the second half. (AP)|
LOUISVILLE -- After the beatdown had been delivered and Louisville had set what felt like a record for dunks and Rick Pitino had emptied his bench to the delight of the student section with several minutes remaining, Alex Oriakhi exited the Connecticut locker room and, with an ice pack on his elbow, summarized things pretty well.
"Everybody is pissed off," Oriakhi said. "Nobody wants to get embarrassed like that."
And almost nobody ever does.
At least not on national television.
At least not when they've got two lottery picks.
But Connecticut got embarrassed like that Monday night here at the KFC Yum! Center. The Huskies entered the losers of four of their past five and six of their past nine and in need of a road victory to prevent their Big East record from falling below .500. As you already know, they didn't get that road win. They instead got run off the court, demoralized and -- as interim coach George Blaney, sophomore star Jeremy Lamb and Oriakhi all acknowledged -- totally embarrassed.
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The final score was 80-59.
The game wasn't really that close.
"They embarrassed us," Blaney said. "That's not the way we play."
An optimistic man might write that this was only one bad game that snowballed, and that if North Carolina can recover from a 33-point beating at Florida State, then there's no reason to think Connecticut can't recover from this and start playing like a team with a roster so talented that Associated Press voters ranked the Huskies fourth in their preseason poll.
But I am not an optimistic man, and this didn't feel like merely one bad game. It felt like I was watching a team that's leaderless and heartless and -- with Jim Calhoun on an indefinite leave of absence for health reasons -- in no position to get things turned around. It felt like I was watching a team that has quit in every way possible.
The Huskies looked selfish and disinterested.
They might've been pissed off but they didn't seem pissed off.
They seemed apathetic.
"I don't know," answered Lamb when asked how he planned to work himself out of a slump that has caused him to miss 27 of the past 37 shots he has taken (including six of the nine shots he took against Louisville), and that can't be a good sign heading into UConn's game Saturday against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. Barring a huge surprise, that'll be when and where the Huskies drop to 15-9 overall and 5-7 in the Big East. They'll then be the losers of six of their past seven games and 8 of 11. They'll then undeniably be in a downward spiral that could lead to them becoming only the fifth team in history to miss the NCAA tournament a year after winning the national championship.
Kemba Walker isn't here to fix this mess.
Neither is Calhoun.
What's here is a sophomore prospect (Lamb) who seems genuinely shaken by the current state of his game, a heralded freshman (Andre Drummond) who can't be relied upon, and a sophomore point guard (Shabazz Napier) who wants to lead but can't. Truth be told, I like Ryan Boatright and all that flash. But the tiny freshman, at this point in his career, seems like somebody who might be OK losing by 21 as long as he can lead the team in scoring, which is exactly what he did on this night with 18 points on 10 field-goal attempts.
Is that really a core capable of pulling out of this with an interim coach?
I have my doubts.
And I didn't hear anything from anybody in the postgame interviews that changed my opinion. This team that just got wrecked by 21 by a Louisville team that earlier in the season got wrecked by 31 at Providence seems more lost than found and apart than together, and they just let the Cardinals -- who are far from the nation's most athletic outfit -- dunk all over them in a way that had this beautiful and flawless downtown arena as loud and giddy as a beautiful and flawless downtown arena can get.
This felt like rock bottom.
This felt like a knockout punch.
Connecticut could get up and recover nicely, I guess.
But I wouldn't bet on it.
And you probably shouldn't, either.