Future murky for UConn, Calhoun after early exit

By Nancy Armour

Associated Press

Published: Friday, March 16 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Several seconds were left on the clock and Connecticut still had one last possession.

Jim Calhoun had seen more than enough, however. Leaving his seat before the final buzzer, he walked to the scorer's table to exchange a quick handshake with Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg and then was gone.

Maybe for good.

Connecticut became the first defending national champion to lose its opening game since UCLA in 1996, its 77-64 loss to Iowa State on Thursday night one last disappointment in a season filled with them.

"We're talking about tonight's game. We're not talking about me," Calhoun said curtly. "I'm going to get on the plane tomorrow, go home and do what I usually do and meet up with the team on Monday. My own personal thing, I don't think it has any relevance, to be honest with you."

Oh, but it does.

Calhoun is synonymous with UConn, the architect of three national titles with the Huskies and 855 career victories. But he turns 70 in May, and the back problems that forced him to take a one-month leave of absence were yet one more health crisis for the three-time cancer survivor. He has said he did not retire last year in large part because he wanted to see through NCAA sanctions that resulted from recruiting violations in his program.

Calhoun had to sit out the first three games of the Big East season, and didn't want another coach to serve that penalty. Now, the team faces a possible banishment from the 2013 NCAA tournament — and maybe longer — because of past academic problems.

"There were some things that made me feel good about this team," Calhoun said. "I like coaching basketball, I hate this ending."

In other games in Louisville: overall No. 1 seed Kentucky routed Western Kentucky 81-66; third-seeded Marquette held off 14th-seeded BYU 88-68; and sixth-seeded Murray State outran 11th-seeded Colorado State 58-41.

NCAA investigations and questions about Calhoun's future have hung over UConn all year. In addition to Calhoun's suspension at the start of the Big East season, freshman Ryan Boatright missed nine games after an NCAA investigation found he and his family took more than $8,000 in impermissible benefits before he enrolled at Connecticut.

Connecticut withstood the turmoil until January, when things unraveled in spectacular fashion and with dizzying speed. The Huskies lost 11 of 16, including three of five when Calhoun was out. Among the losses? A 21-point blowout at Louisville and an 18-point loss to Syracuse five days later.

"Effort and attitude," Shabazz Napier said when asked to explain what went wrong this year. "We had a great player last year who brought it every single day. And as a point guard, it's my job to bring that. When you don't bring that effort and attitude to be that leader for your teammates, you lose games. More often than not, you sit up here talking about what you could have done and what you should have done."

Take Thursday's game.

After trailing by as many as 22 points in the first half, UConn (20-14) cut the lead to 58-52 with 8:24 to play after three straight baskets by Boatright.

"Once we cut it to six, I felt like if we dug down a little deeper maybe it would crack," Boatright said.

But the Huskies couldn't get any closer, missing their next four shots and going scoreless for more than 5½ minutes.

Iowa State (23-10), meanwhile, got a big layup from Bubu Palo and an even bigger bucket from Chris Allen.

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