The first half of Saturday's game against South Florida was apparently the last straw.
The Huskies began the game with decent focus, but sloppy execution—it got worse from there. In a game with a lot at stake for both teams, only USF was playing with emotion. They out-hustled the Huskies enough to grab a 33-31 halftime lead.
With 16:04 remaining in the final game of the regular season, a double-digit lead for USF, and the Huskies still flat as a board, Jim Calhoun called a timeout. Clearly the five on the floor were in for a major-league chewing out or one of Calhoun's famous stare-downs. Instead, he completely ignored the starters and gathered a squad of reserves together for a huddle.
When play resumed, the lineup consisted of Donnell Beverly, Darius Smith, Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, Charles Okwandu, and Alex Oriakhi. Well that's odd. A Darius Smith sighting in a must-win game while trailing by double-digits? Had Coach given up?
No—Calhoun hadn't given up on the game. He had given up on his seniors. Jerome Dyson, Stanley Robinson, and Gavin Edwards would have their butts planted on the bench for the remainder of the game. Starters Kemba Walker and Ater Majok were eventually worked back into the game, but only after the odd-squad had injected some life back into the Huskies effort.
The reserves played well. They might be inexperienced, but there was a reason they were asked to don the Huskies blue and white in the first place.
Once some momentum was established, Majok replaced Okwandu, and Walker began splitting time with Smith and Beverly. This group fought hard—they clearly did not want to lose. To quote Coach, they were playing "Connecticut basketball." The USF lead was cut down to two points with 36 seconds to play, but they just couldn't get over the hump.
Another terrible loss for the Huskies, but there is still time to accomplish the goal of reaching the NCAA tournament. It would take a supreme effort, and likely three wins in the Big East tournament, but it is not impossible.
One point of major interest going into the Big East tournament though is Calhoun's current opinion of his seniors.
"The team that you saw at the end will be the team that starts Tuesday," Calhoun said after the game. The exact combination of players was left open, but it was clear that Robinson, Dyson, and Edwards would be sitting when the Big East tournament begins.
Would the seniors be benched for the entire game? Benched for a half? We don't know yet. It is clear, however, that Calhoun has had it with that particular troika.
Are the Huskies better off without their three most experienced and talented players? Can they really win in the BET by playing reserves?