There were flashes of the intensity expected during the most anticipated season in University at Buffalo history. Especially in the second half, when UB outscored defending national champion Connecticut on the Huskies' home floor.
But there was one little problem -- the first half.
With an overpowering display in the low post, the No. 8 Huskies blitzed the Bulls in the opening 20 minutes en route to an 90-68 victory before a Gampel Pavilion sellout crowd of 10,167.
The loss completed a weekend wipeout of the three UB teams that traveled to the Nutmeg State. The blowouts endured by the women's basketball and football teams were expected, but the men's basketball game was supposed to be a different story.
This was a UB team returning every key part from a 17-win season. It's a senior-laden group expected to contend for the Mid-American Conference title and not spend too many nights on the wrong side of lopsided scores.
That's why going into the locker room at halftime in a 47-24 hole was a huge disappointment. UB's offense was rendered moot as the Bulls hit just 8 of 31 from the field while Connecticut's massive frontline was annihilating UB at both ends of the floor.
The Bulls had no answer for 6-foot-10 UConn sophomore Josh Boone, who collected 16 of his career-high 18 points, seven of his 11 rebounds and three of his four blocks in the opening 20 minutes. Charlie Villanueva, UConn's 6-11 sophomore, had six points and seven rebounds in the half.
UConn outrebounded the Bulls, 34-11, in the stanza and used runs of 11-0 and 13-0 to build its big cushion.
"We didn't get surprised," UB coach Reggie Witherspoon said glumly. "We came in concerned about their ability to run the floor and their ability to rebound the basketball. They had it on full display for us today, and we didn't respond well enough."
The game was tied just once (at 2-2) before UConn blew the Bulls away with 11 straight points in a 2 1/2 -minute span. All at once, it was a reboundfest and a dunkathon. For good measure, UConn guard Rashad Anderson tore at the Bulls' hearts with some long-range shooting. He had 16 of his 23 points in the first half, including all four of his three-pointers.
UConn hit 10 of its first 15 shots from the field before cooling off while the Bulls were making just two of their first 12. The Huskies pressured the ball at the point of attack, impeded the passing lanes and completely intimidated the UB frontline when the ball got into the low post.
"We really jumped into them and took away the dribble screens, the offense they run so well," said UConn coach Jim Calhoun. "You try to discourage them to think that they're not going to get any easy baskets, and we did a wonderful job of that in the first half."
"We had some sharp cuts," acknowledged UB point guard Turner Battle. "We just made some mistakes early and then didn't get back on defense. We were a little hesitant at times, and we just didn't get back."
Battle struggled to create any offensive flow and didn't hit a field goal until two seconds before halftime. But like the rest of the Bulls, he was much better in the second half and finished with a team-high 14 points.
UB never got closer than 18 in the final 20 minutes, but the Bulls did outscore UConn, 44-43.
Guard Roderick Middleton added 13 points for UB, while 6-10 senior Mark Bortz had 10 points and 10 rebounds. But Yassin Idbihi, the 6-10 sophomore named a preseason All-MAC selection, was completely overmatched. Playing just 12 minutes, Idbihi had only four points and two rebounds before fouling out.
"He came to the sideline and said that one trip up and down (the floor) felt like 20 trips up and down," Witherspoon said. "He was gassed. . . . He had one or two good possessions in the second half where he was attacking the basket, but the pace of the game took a lot out of him."
UB did manage to force 23 UConn turnovers while committing just 12. And the Bulls hit 16 of 36 from the field in the second half while being outrebounded only 22-16.
"We seemed to move the ball with some aggression," Witherspoon said. "The first half, we seemed to move the ball and then stop to look to see if anything was available."
"They're going to beat some folks," Calhoun said of the Bulls. "If you don't show up (on defense), they're going to run their offense and get their shots."
The Bulls figure to find some easier ones Tuesday night, when they host Fairleigh Dickinson in their Alumni Arena opener.