BRIDGEPORT, CT. — Three thoughts and some awards from last night’s game between Columbia and Connecticut, won by the Huskies, 80-65.
1. The Defense Rests: Columbia was carried through the first chunk of the season by its stingy defense, which held several opponents under 40 points per game and kept Kentucky to a season-low total. The last two games, though, have seen the Light Blue surrender over 70 points twice. And the defense completely collapsed down the stretch against UConn, allowing plenty of too-open looks for three and far too many alley-oops. Every time it looked like the Lions could get back in it with a stop, the Huskies would strike again.
Is this a long-term worry? Firstly, this is the second game in three nights for Columbia, and they were both against top opposition. Fatigue seemed to be affecting the Lions down the stretch. Secondly, UConn’s offensive talent should not be ignored — it’s unlikely Columbia will face a better point guard this year than Ryan Boatright, Connecticut’s star senior. But the defensive struggles are absolutely worrisome, and will be something to keep an eye on as the Lions wrap up nonconference play.
2. The Luke Petrasek Rises: The sophomore forward made his season debut vs. Kentucky and played his first significant minutes against Hofstra, but he finally looked totally healthy against UConn. Playing the Cory Osetkowski role at the top of the key, Petrasek moved the ball well and had a couple of nifty plays — a pump-fake leading to a drive and a massive slam dunk, and a baseline spin move and layup. Columbia’s frontcourt is the team’s weakness — but if Petrasek can play 25 minutes a night and make the expected sophomore step forward, he will present a matchup problem for the rest of the conference.
3. How Far They’ve Come: Three years ago, the Columbia Lions took on the defending champion Connecticut Huskies and were beaten soundly, in a game they never really contested. Flash forward to today, and these Lions put the fear of God into Kevin Ollie’s squad. These Lions are still a work in progress, trying to figure out the best lineups from a roster broken by injury, and they (largely) went toe-to-toe with the Huskies. And, most incredibly, the final result feels like a disappointment! Kyle Smith’s Columbia team is afraid of no one, and they’ve proved over and over again that they won’t roll over and die in a big game. That these Lions — the Columbia Lions, last Ivy champions in 1968 — are now considered giant-killers speaks to the great progress made under Kyle Smith. A serious challenge for the league title is the next step, and we’re barely a month away from finding out how high the Morningside faithful can dream.
Player of the Game: It’s Maodo Lo’s world, and we’re just living in it. The Chairman seems to grow every game in the central role, and this game was no exception — a game-high 24 points on 10-for-15 shooting. Lo is mounting a Player of the Year campaign in Manhattan, and the rest of the league will be taking detailed notes.
Better Luck Next Time: Cory Osetkowski will wish this game never happened. The senior big man seemed off from the start, posting an ugly line of four points on 1-for-7 shooting, to go with three turnovers and just two rebounds. Osetkowski played just 17 minutes, and his drop in form has coincided with the return of Luke Petrasek. The senior will need to turn in better, more consistent performances, or his playing time might be permanently snatched away by the more athletic Petrasek.
The gameday experience: Connecticut traffic during rush-hour is truly something to behold… Webster Bank Arena, in Bridgeport, is a nice place to watch a basketball game, including a massive jumbotron that recalls the monstrosity at AT&T Stadium in Texas … Though, $4.50 for a 20 oz. soda is absurd … The crowd spent most of the game in a state of stunned disgust, which is an increasingly common reaction for a “big team” taking on the Lions … The UConn mascot, some sort of walking dog thing, is utterly horrifying.
— Steven Tydings (@StevenTydings) December 23, 2014