STORRS, Conn. — It was hard not to feel butterflies during a play like that.
The 10,000-plus Connecticut fans at Gampel Pavilion collectively gasped and watched with awe as, with an eight-point lead and three minutes left in the first half, freshman Stu Douglass leaped toward the Huskies’ basket.
An uncontested, fast-break layup would give the Michigan men’s basketball team all the momentum they could possibly ask for.
It’s the type of play that upsets are made of — the type of play a David needs to overcome a Goliath.
That is, if that uncontested, fast-break layup hadn’t rimmed out.
After each of Douglass’s career-best six 3-pointers, he turned back, mouth open slightly, shaking his head — a confident gesture, an I’m-having-the-game-of-my-life gesture. But after the missed lay-up, he had a different expression.
For the first time all game, one of the Wolverines looked wild-eyed, overwhelmed.
For everything they had done right, for everything that had gone their way, one measly missed lay-up led to an 8-0 Connecticut run and a 10-point swing that tied the game at 31.
Sure, Michigan kept it close after that, but it was only a matter of time before size and experience stifled the proverbial man-beats-giant storyline.
And Connecticut is a Goliath — figuratively and, in a sense, literally.
The Huskies are the top-ranked team in the nation, and for good reason after tearing off two 11-game winning streaks. Then there’s the 7-foot-3 behemoth Hasheem Thabeet, who towers over Michigan’s “big” men, 6-foot-8 DeShawn Sims and 6-foot-10 Zack Gibson.
The Huskies’ game plan centered around Thabeet. And for a team that’s struggled mightily against big men all season, Michigan needed a perfect game to win with Thabeet roaming the paint.
It was a nearly perfect game before that gimme lay-up rimmed out.
But from that play on, every time the Wolverines made it close and every time they appeared to have a chance, Connecticut stopped fooling around, stopped giving up sloppy turnover and simply tossed ally-oops to Thabeet.
Every time Michigan had a glimpse of hope, it was put back in its place by the clearly superior Huskies.
After the game, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun gave Michigan quite high praise: “I honestly think in a given game, they can beat anybody in the United States.”
And the Wolverines have more or less proven that, but not on a consistent basis.
Heywood Broun once wrote of a lesser boxer that had a shot — but failed — at taking down Jack Dempsey: “The tragedy of man is not that he loses, but that he almost wins.”
Everyone remembers the story of David taking down the powerful Goliath.
But the story’s not a story if David would have simply tripped him up a bit. No glory is made in losing — not matter how good the team is or how close you came.
— Reid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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