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A tough missed opportunity for Tulsa

March 15, 2015 Columns No Comments

HARTFORD, Conn. – Saturday was a missed opportunity for Tulsa. They let it get away. Now they hope it doesn’t turn out to be bigger than that, and all they can do is wait and hope. And waiting will be a hard thing to do at this point.

Tulsa lost a tough one to UConn in the American Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals. It was a game they were mostly in control of, as they led for almost 33 minutes. They scored the game’s first seven points, not allowing the Huskies to score until almost eight minutes in. They responded well to runs the Huskies made for much of the game.

The trouble was that the Golden Hurricane never got untracked themselves, shooting below 30 percent for the game and giving away points on some live-ball turnovers. They gave it away just eight times, which is a lot in a low-scoring game like this, but the Huskies made them pay with 17 points off the turnovers.

They let the Huskies stay in, and they paid for it at the end. UConn finished the game on a 14-1 run.

“We came out, we competed hard, we did, we felt like we did a good job throughout the game except the last four minutes they took control,” said Tulsa guard James Woodard.

Even as they let UConn hang around, the Golden Hurricane did a good job of responding to runs the Huskies made, especially in the second half. They built the lead to 30-21 a few minutes into the second half. Then when UConn got within 32-28 just past the midway point of the second, Frank Haith called timeout to nip it in the bud. They responded again, scoring the next six points to go up 38-28, their biggest lead of the game.

With the way they were defending and rebounding – they had a 25-10 edge on the glass at the half and finished with a 40-28 edge – you had a feeling Tulsa might end the home school’s Cinderella run and strengthen their case for an NCAA Tournament bid.

After Rashad Ray made one of two free throws right after the last media timeout, UConn went on the decisive run. Tulsa didn’t have a field goal in the final 6:35 of the game. They had chances, though, including 13 offensive rebounds that they turned in to just ten second-chance points.

“In this game today, I thought we left so many plays out there,” said Haith. “We had so many open looks, so many layups we missed. We just missed plays.”

Now the Golden Hurricane have to wait to find out their fate.

“This team started with a new coach, we started on the road at Oral Roberts in the first game of the year,” said Haith. “We beat UConn, we beat Memphis twice, we beat Temple twice, and those teams are in the front half of this league.”

Tulsa was the last team in The American to lose a conference game. What isn’t helping is the non-conference schedule, where they lost to a non-Division I team and didn’t beat a team that will be in the NCAA Tournament – not even a team from a smaller conference that will go with an automatic bid. That was very similar to the profile SMU had last year, and SMU didn’t make it.

Even in conference play, where quality wins were harder to come by because the conference as a whole struggled in non-conference play, the Golden Hurricane couldn’t break through against the best. They lost twice to SMU and at home to Cincinnati in their only meeting with the Bearcats. The teams Haith noted that they beat include a bubble team and two who would only be dancing with a championship on Sunday.

In other words, if you’re a Tulsa fan you would be right to be worried right now.

A win over the Huskies might not have been enough for the Golden Hurricane, given that Wyoming won the Mountain West Tournament by beating a San Diego State team that should be in regardless. But beating the Huskies would have put them in a better place and with a chance to earn their way in. They missed an opportunity in more ways than one.

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