Early on, it looked like Wesley Saunders' absence would leave a huge hole, as Harvard made only one field goal in the first six minutes while allowing Connecticut to open up a 10-4 advantage.
Fortunately for the Crimson, they still have Kyle Casey... and Siyani Chambers... and Laurent Rivard... and now Brandyn Curry finally playing his way back into shape after his absence from the 2013 portion of the schedule due to an Achilles injury.
It was Curry's first basket of the game, a three-pointer with about 13 minutes left, that finally broke that drought and sparked a 12-0 run by Harvard that would gain them a lead that they would hold for the remainder of the first half. Suddenly UConn looked like the team playing itself back into shape, having just lost back-to-back games at the conclusion of a Storrs-to-Washington-to-Storrs-to-Texas(twice) stretch of games.
They looked as weary late in the first half as they did in their previous two games; rotating late to match Harvard's motion offense, DeAndre Daniels getting sloppy defending Kyle Casey. The Huskies were the better shooting team across the board in the first half, but their messy play showed up in the form of 11 turnovers, matching their per-game average to this point in the season.
In interviewing Amaker at halftime, ESPN's Andy Katz referenced "you know the UConn run is coming at some point in the second half" and boy did it, right away. An 11-3 run to open the half where the Huskies were moving on offense and even getting out in transition off turnovers, just what the doctor ordered.
Suddenly Harvard was chasing on defense, getting all sorts of fouls called on them - after five first half fouls, the Crimson put UConn in the bonus with 12 1/2 minutes still left in regulation. Harvard was standing still and ball-watching on offense. It was like a bad remake of one of those body-swap movies. They cut down their turnovers, but mostly because they were passing the ball a lot less.
Before you knew it, Harvard was trailing 48-39, and when Rivard finally got his first open look from long range in the second half, it went as far in as it could go before circling back out. It was that kind of second half early on for Harvard as the offense just froze up, and UConn started showing their size.
In the first half, DeAndre Daniels had 3 points, 2 rebounds, 1 block and 1 turnover. Amida Brimah had a foul, a block and a turnover. In the second half, a completely different story. Daniels tallied 8 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks, while Brimah chipped in four rebounds and two blocks of his own before fouling out.
In that second half, the Crimson had another six minute stretch without a field goal, but they listened to Tommy Amaker over the next few minutes and were able to pull within 49-47 on a Chambers three pointer with 3:15 left to play, and then...
And then, Shabazz Napier happened. The man who had shot 2-for-11 in the first 58 minutes of the game took the ball on isolations on consecutive plays and drained a three-pointer both times.
Not so fast my friend. On Harvard's ensuing possession, Rivard got the ball out deep on the elbow... and Napier was whistled for a bad foul as Rivard's shot dropped through the net. Then UConn free throws were followed by a Harvard free run for a bucket and one. Then it happened again (minus the and-one). Then Niels Giffey traveled on the inbounds! Fortunately, that last possession for Harvard devolved into a mess that UConn turned into a steal and a win.
Despite the loss and a drop to 13-2 on the season, this bodes well for the Crimson. Being able to push the Huskies damn near to the buzzer without your best scorer means that getting him back gives you the clear edge in a top-heavy conference like the Ivy.
The Crimson will start out with a tasty meatball sandwich of Dartmouth home-and-home with the awful Florida Atlantic Owls as the filling before revving up for the first big game of the season at home against Princeton at the end of the month.
But that's then, for now, a near miss against a big and talented UConn squad will give the team many positives to build on as it keeps getting healthier and more dangerous.