STORRS, Conn. -- In Jim Calhoun's quarter century as coach of the University of Connecticut men's basketball team there are a couple of axioms that have always rung true.
The first is rebounding. UConn has always rebounded well in the Calhoun era and been among the nation's leaders in rebounding margin for much of the previous decade.
The other axiom is UConn always plays better in March than December.
With a team comprised largely of freshmen and a great player in Kemba Walker, this year looked no different when UConn was ranked in the top 10 in January.
Oh how things have turned.
As the postseason approaches, the Huskies aren't getting better, they are getting worse.
No. 8 ranked Notre Dame played the final 8:24 without star Ben Hansborough and still closed the game on a 10-2 run, holding off another stellar performance by Kemba Walker on its way to a 70-67 win over UConn before a sold-out crowd of 10, 167 fans at Gampel Pavilion.
The Huskies end the season 21-9 and 9-9 in the Big East. The Huskies will play in the far reaches of the Big East Conference tournament Tuesday and it will take five wins in five days for them to win the Big East tournament title.
"We'll see, I don't see why not," Walker said of making a Big East run. "The league is wide open. It's whoever gets hot."
Hot is not what the Huskies are ending the season losing four-of-five. How did the Huskies get here?
It's not difficult to explain. Walker was his All-American caliber self on Saturday with 34 points, but the inside play that was so good in November and December has left the Huskies. For the second straight game, UConn was out-rebounded by the opposition and on 32 missed shots managed only eight offensive rebounds.
Walker, who does everything for the Huskies, was their leading rebounder with six.
Alex Oriakhi, a player who had a 21 rebound game this year, had five points and two rebounds in 24 minutes. Charles Okwandu, the biggest player on the floor, had four points and three rebounds in 17 minutes. Roscoe Smith added four rebounds in 24 minutes.
"I guess me and Chuck didn't do a good job of boxing out," Oriakhi said. "I can get more aggressive. I definitely wasn't aggressive tonight, at least not in the second half, and that hurt us."
The lack of production on the boards has Calhoun flummoxed.
"I've never had this problem my whole career," Calhoun said. "Where guys are getting worse rebounding as the game goes on.
"When you miss as many shots as we did, and get eight offensive rebounds, and Kemba Walker being our leading rebounder, that's not a good thing. It continues to cost us. We are not asking anybody to solve the Theory of Relativity. We are not asking anybody to do anything unusual. Making shots sometimes is tough. I can accept some of the missed shots. They happen. But, I can't accept the fact you can't grab a basketball. "
If the Huskies aren't rebounding it makes it makes it doubly difficult to win close games as the erratic shooting of the team reared its ugly head again down the stretch. The Huskies trailed 60-50 midway through the second half before Walker got the Huskies going. UConn went on a 15-0 run --11 by Walker -- to make it a 65-60 game with four minutes left. In that span, Hansborough fouled out with 8:24 left getting called for an offensive foul. Hansborough had 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting, but had to sit out the final third of the game.
UConn had a big advantage, but it couldn't close the deal.
Notre Dame (25-5, 14-4) worked the ball through the post to Tyrone Nash and finished the game on a 10-2 run to stun the Huskies. Nash had six points in the run and a Tim Abromaitis layup with 2:11 to go gave Notre Dame the lead for good. UConn shot 1-of-9 in the final four minutes and a Walker 3 with eight seconds left trailing 69-67 hit the front rim. After Nash made 1-of-2 free throws, Walker's pass to an open Donnell Beverly in the corner bounced off the senior guard's hands and time expired, sealing another close loss.
The Huskies will now regroup entering next week's Big East tournament. UConn has lost 4-of-5 to close out the season and is reeling. The Huskies have a player in Walker who can carry a team for long stretches. They play terrific perimeter defense and despite erratic shooting, have shown an ability to go on extended runs.
The one thing that is missing is in an area that Calhoun never expected to struggle with.
Calhoun believes UConn has the talent to be a good rebounding team and is unsure why they have been so poor on the glass.
"This is not the first time it's happened, it's getting worse," Calhoun said. "The new season is going to start on Tuesday; we are going to have to rebound. We can't rely on Kemba to be our main rebounder."
Can UConn rebound next week? Well, that depends on how much they actually rebound.