NEW YORK – UConn and Indiana square off for the championship of the 2K Classic, benefitting the Wounded Warrior Project, in about eight hours, and although neither team has much time to regroup and recover following their victories on Thursday night, this could end up being looked upon as a very important game down the road.
A statement game, if you will.
For the Huskies, the key would appear to be the old, familiar and still-troubling one – rebounding.
“We knew Indiana was a really good offensive rebounding team,” said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, after his team was beaten 102-84 by the Hoosiers, “but what they did decided the game on the boards. [Noah] Vonleh and [Troy] Williams established themselves tonight. That’s tough to overcome if a team does that to you on the offensive boards.”
What the Hoosiers did was grab 50 rebounds in the game, 20 offensive. Washington had 29 total rebounds. It makes one wonder how LIU-Brooklyn came within a point of beating the Hoosiers last week.
Indiana (5-0) is not ranked, but could be if it beats UConn, No. 18. The Hoosiers are plus-20 in rebounding against their five opponents – Chicago State, LIU-Brooklyn, Samford, Stony Brook and Washington.
So for UConn, which was outrebounded by Boston College 33 to 32 – and the Eagles had come into the game with a lackluster rebounding track record – the game Friday night will be a major physical challenge.
Vonleh, the 6-foot-10, 240-pounder from Massachusetts, was a big recruiting target for UConn during the summer and fall of 2012. Kevin Ollie knows him well, likes him a lot. Vonleh chose Indiana while the Huskies were playing in Germany last November, and now Ollie must find a way to match up with him. Vonleh had 18 points and nine rebounds Thursday night. Williams, 6-7, another freshman, had 22 and eight.
Vonleh had double-doubles in the first four games.
“He’s just got a great pedigree, a high-character individual, and then you’ve got a stat line like that,” Ollie said during the conference call this week. “That’s unbelievable, getting double-doubles every game, and not just getting 10 rebounds, I mean getting 14, 15 rebounds, and also playing very well on the offensive end. He’s doing an incredible job.”
Phil Nolan, Amidah Brimah and Tyler Olander are options against Vonleh, but Nolan and Brimah have had problems staying out of foul trouble.
Sophomore Yogi Farrell, who had 20 points and five rebounds, plays off Vonleh in the pick-and-roll. Indiana, though, is young and had 13 turnovers against Washington. How quickly the Hoosiers can bounce back mentally and physically with the quick turnaround is a question coach Tom Crean raised after the game.
“The bottom line will not be about the physical part of it but to get better mentally in a short time,” Crean said.
UConn is in the same boat, but more experienced and probably deeper at this point.
In any event, as we move along in the process of finding out just how good this UConn team can be, Friday night at the Garden will be a benchmark.