The Longhorns’ life without senior center Cameron Ridley got off to a rocky start Tuesday night at the Frank Erwin Center.
Texas shot just 39 percent from the field while four UConn players scored in double digits.
The end result was a 71-66 loss to the Huskies, snapping the Longhorns’ six-game home winning streak.
“That was a tough one,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “We did not get stops when we needed to get them.”
The Longhorns initially appeared to be fine without Ridley. His replacements, senior center Prince Ibeh and junior forward Shaquille Cleare, stood their ground early, combining for a dunk, rebound and assist in the early minutes.
After being down 10-6, freshman guard Tevin Mack drilled two 3-pointers to spark a 10-0 run which led to a 16-6 lead for Texas.
But the Longhorns couldn’t maintain it.
The Huskies fired back with a 15-8 run to take a slim one-point lead and then closed out the half with a 9-4 run, taking a 34-33 lead into halftime.
Smart said they knew the Huskies would try to drive the lane, but still couldn’t slow down the attack.
“It’s one thing to know it; it’s another to take it away,” Smart said. “We didn’t do enough to take it away.”
The second half, however, revealed just how much Ridley’s absence affected the Longhorns.
UConn tallied 20 points in the paint and snagged 18 rebounds in the second half. Texas, meanwhile, struggled to hit anything in the lane, getting just 12 points in the paint.
Smart said the points in the paint for UConn fell more on the guards rather than the big men down low.
“It just came down to being able to defend them in the half court,” Smart said. “We didn’t do a good enough job.”
Texas managed to trim the deficit down to 65-62, but former Longhorn Sterling Gibbs hit four free throws to put the game out of reach.
Mack finished the game with a career-high five 3-pointers and 20 points, but said “it honestly doesn’t mean much if we don’t win the game.”
Still, Smart said he’s happy to see Mack making shots after all he’s been through in his freshman season.
“This first couple of months of the season, he’s had to make an adjustment, like a lot of freshmen, to the college level and it’s been harder than expected,” Smart said. “For him to make five threes is huge.”
The loss is the team’s first defeat on American soil as Texas wraps up its nonconference schedule with an 8-4 record.
But the hardest games are yet to come. The Longhorns begin Big 12 play on the road at Texas Tech on Saturday and there won’t be many breathers in a conference that boasts five teams in the Associated Press Top 25.
Smart said he’s excited for the opportunity the Longhorns have competing in what he called “the best conference in America.”
“For us, it’s a matter of grabbing hold of [the opportunity] as a group and being highly connected around what goes into being successful,” Smart said.