Valiant effort by Tulane falls just shot as UConn extends streak
I haven't hid my enthusiasm for the way Kolby Morgan plays the game, in my opinion she is the best non-UConn player in the conference. When the Green Wave faced UConn at Gampel Pavilion in January the junior guard had 22 points but received little help from her teammates as the Huskies rolled to a 100-56 victory. Senior guard Leslie Vorpahl had 11 of Tulane's 26 turnovers in that game. It was a different story tonight. Vorpahl had 16 points and six assists. She hit some tough shots all game long.
UConn gave Tulane every chance to win the game whether it was 18 turnovers including some of the hard to believe variety. UConn was also 5 for 12 from the foul line in the fourth quarter. UConn's offense, except when the ball was in the hands of Napheesa Collier, was stagnant. Gabby Williams looked tentative and Katie Lou Samuelson continues to miss shots that you'd expect her to make. It didn't help that junior guard Kia Nurse missed the game and according to a report from SNY, she could sit the next couple of weeks to get healthy for the postseason. Her leadership and talent was missed on the court.
There was also some horrendous, horrendous officiating. The fourth foul on Collier was laughable. There were more than a few ticky tack fouls on both sides, a couple on rebounds that went against Tulane. The same official who called No. 4 on Collier made another terrible call against UConn blowing the whistle before any contact was made. There were also two times when it looked to me like Katie Lou Samuelson was fouled when she was NOT in the act of shooting and was awarded two shots both times.
The sad thing about this game is that is it the exception and not the rule. There's no reason why Tulane couldn't have put up a better fight when the teams met in Storrs. Sure, a three-point loss to UConn could be viewed by the selection committee as being more impressive than a win over another time but the positive impact from this performance is negated by the no show back in January.
While the style was much different, UConn's playing not to lose mindset is rather unusual but it has happened before. In some ways this game reminded me of the Huskies last loss to an unranked team five years to the date of tonight's near escape. On that night St. John's rode some clutch offensive plays from its veterans and a strong defensive effort to stun the Huskies 57-56. That St. John's team and this Tulane team couldn't be more different. The Red Storm had the ability to beat UConn off the dribble and was an outstanding offensive rebounding team. Despite Shenneika Smith's game-winning 3-pointer with 8 seconds left, the Red Storm usually did not make a living on the 3-point shot. Tulane can live and die at times on its perimeter offense and the Green Wave came into the game ranking 10th out of 11 AAC teams in offensive rebounds.
The good news is that for UConn it could be a throw some cold water in your face kind of a moment. It is also a reminder that even the best teams can get caught up in the moment. Was there a hangover from the win against South Carolina and hoopla from the 100th straight victory? Perhaps. But it was also a case of a Tulane team that could very well make the NCAA tournament (although the loss to Memphis is a killer) not backing down. The next game is against a very good Temple team and the final game of the regular season will be at South Florida, a team with a lot to play for especially after a humbling 65-point loss to UConn on Jan. 10.
I'll end this post with a little housekeeping. If USF beats Temple tomorrow the Huskies will have clinched at least a share of the AAC regular-season title since both Temple and USF would be three games back with three games left. A win by USF would pretty much wrap up a top three seed for the Bulls leaving Tulane, Cincinnati, UCF and Memphis to fight it out for seeds No. 4-7. Currently SMU and Tulsa are sitting in the No. 8 and 9 slots meaning they would meet in the opening round of the AAC tournament with the winner drawing UConn in the quarterfinals. Wednesday's SMU/Memphis game could give SMU a chance to move out of the dreaded 8/9 game.