PITTSBURGH – Some notes, quotes, thoughts from UConn’s loss at Pitt.
Let’s start with a little perspective. Anyone out there think UConn was going 14-4 in the Big East? Anyone out there certain they would win two of this rugged ND-Louisville-Pitt three-game stretch?
At 12-5, 2-3, the Huskies still have the chance to reach realistic goals for the season. The two losses this week sting, as losses do when they happen, but who counted them as wins at the start of the season?
Louisville and Pitt exposed weaknesses that we all knew the Huskies had. They don’t have Big East caliber front-court players, no one to throw to inside, and are often going to forced to settle for contested three-point shots. That was the first half here, the Huskies were smothered by Pitt’s zone. That will happen again.
But this team has impressive fight in it, and coming back from 14 points down to tie this game should be looked on as another positive. They were tied with 4:09 to go. Ryan Boatright, ice cold in the first half, but got hot and Omar Calhoun is becoming more consistent offensively, though he still struggles on defense.
Now the Huskies have a week off for Shabazz Napier to get healthy, then play five opponents – Rutgers, Providence, South Florida, St. John’s and Seton Hall, four of whom were picked below UConn in the preseason poll. USF was picked one spot ahead, eighth. It’s a chance to put this season-sans-postseason in pretty good shape by mid-February.
Here is the main game story for the Sunday Courant.
I won’t fault UConn’s decision to play Shabazz Napier. I was told there was no concern of a long-term injury, just maybe a short-term set-back if he aggravated the shoulder. So it was worth the risk, and though he was limited, it almost paid off in a win.
“His shoulder is messed up,” Ryan Boatright said, “anybody can see he’s not himself. We need to get him healthy as soon as possible.”
‘Bazz is the subject of Jeff Jacobs column for Sunday, and the UConn notebook off this game.
“We practiced yesterday and I shot around a little,” Napier said. “It wasn’t that much of a problem. We went five on five and I was only slightly limited. Shooting wise I felt a hitch in my shoulder. I was told I was able to go so I went out and tried my best.
“I couldn’t dribble with my left hand. I tried to get to the middle and drove with my left at the end of half time but it hit my arm resulting in a turnover. I’m usually able to fix that contact and get a shot up but I wasn’t able to dribble with my left hand.”
Kevin Ollie was predicting “another step forward” for his big. It was a step backward. Tyler Olander, with six rebounds, but only four points, was Ok. Enosch Wolf, no rebounds, did not do much. DeAndre Daniels didn’t have a rebound in 20 minutes; Niels Giffey got six in 30 minutes.
UConn was outscored in the paint, 16 to 10, out-rebounded 38 to 27.
I thought Kevin Ollie showed a little more edge today, on the sidelines and in his press conference. It could be a sign the time for nurturing is over, and it’s time to build toughness. Here is his take on the game.
Omar Calhoun thought UConn “fought with more tenacity” in the second half. Napier thought the Huskies “sleepwalked” in the first half.
R.J. Evans got off the bench for only six minutes; his time is diminishing. Phil Nolan played three minutes, looked overmatched by Steven Adams and Pitts’ big men.
DeAndre Daniels, Enosch Wolf combined: no rebounds.
Here is Jamie Dixon’s take on the game from the Pitt side:
“Well, another great crowd and great rebounding job by us, which is what we’ve been emphasizing and we know when we don’t, we come up short. This was a great win for us. We knocked down free throws in the second half. I’m proud of our guys. We defended really well in the first half, and defensively that was as good as we’ve been this season. It really showed. In the second half, it was probably not what we needed to do. The zone didn’t work. It worked well in the first half obviously and it didn’t work as well to start the second half. We had some guys got in foul trouble, I thought we could get through some minutes with that, and it didn’t work to our advantage. That’s something we’ll look back at.
“Again, we did a great job as far as rebounding. We took care of the ball. I thought we moved the ball well in the first half and, again, the defense was very good. I thought Dante (Taylor) played really well and I thought our bench was terrific, with Dante down the stretch. A lot of guys were knocking down free throws. We had our best free-throw shooters out there knocking them down, so I thought we really executed. We made a couple adjustments guarding the ball screen at the end and I thought that helped because they were hurting us.
“As good as we were in the first half, (UConn) seemed to get more penetration and splitting some ball screens on us, so we made some adjustments in the last couple of minutes and I thought that was key for us.”
There will be more on the game, including Jake’s piece, on our main website as the day goes on.
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