STORRS – If the wind-chill got a little chillier about 9 p.m., it was probably from the massive sigh of relief that came from Gampel Pavilion.
“This was a must win,” Ryan Boatright said, “if we lost three in a row it would have been terrible for us.”
It was not pretty, and it was harder than it should have been with Harvard’s best player, Wesley Saunders, out. But UConn just needed a win, and this is undeniably a quality opponent, based on RPI.
So for all those reasons, it was a good night for the Huskies. Back on track? Time will tell. But a loss here would have been disastrous, especially if UConn blew an eight-point lead over the last 1:31. They nearly did, but for that last defensive stop.
Kevin Ollie vowed after the SMU game that if nothing else, the Huskies would play defense – “that’s what I hang my hat on.” In that sense, it could be said UConn responded. Harvard shot 35 percent, and was pressured into 14 turnovers. UConn blocked nine shots.
“We played harder than we played at Houston and SMU,” Boatright said.
Now UConn (12-3) has 16 games left, all AAC games. With this win, RPI does not have to come into play. If UConn can win 11 of those games, they’d have 23 wins and that should be enough regardless of who those wins are against. If they can’t do better than 9-9 in the league they probably won’t deserve to go anyway. Next up, Central Florida on Saturday.
Bottom line, as I said to Paul Nanos on the radio today, let’s have UConn win a game in the AAC before any more talk of how weak the conference is.
Here is the main game story for the Thursday Courant.
Kevin Ollie’s take:
“It wasn’t a big time offensive game, but I’ve very excited. I’m happy for my team. We just grinded it out. We couldn’t make a shot, but we stuck together, and we were connected. We gave up a couple of bad possessions the last part of the game, and they just stayed together. That last stop is what UConn basketball is all about. We gutted that one out and I’m proud of my guys.
Our recovery is getting better. Down in Houston, we couldn’t recover in a couple of instances, but we recovered tonight. Every run they had, every three-pointer they had, we challenged them and we played our type of basketball.
Defense wins, guys. When we can hold a team to 35 percent – including giving up four or five baskets at the end – that’s a good percentage. I’ll bet on UConn any day when we have a team shooting that bad.
It wasn’t the best offensive game, but that doesn’t matter. We got a win. Now we’re focused on UCF and we’re going to try to get our first American win. We will if we play like this.
[Harvard] is a hard team to guard, because they make you play, most of the time, 35 seconds….It’s exactly what we needed. This team is going to test your discipline. We wanted to be competitive, but we also wanted to stay in our principles. If you’re going to play a team that challenges you in those areas, this is the team…They’ve got some big time basketball players over there. … This is a terrific win for us, Harvard is going to do some special things this season, in March.”
We’ve got to keep Amida [Brimah] out of foul trouble. He changed the game [with his blocks]. If we can get that under control…. The Big Fellow is working. Every day he comes to work. Every day he has enthusiasm, energy, and he just wants to get better.
I told DeAndre [Daniels], ‘DeAndre, you’re a big time player, you have to think that, I can’t believe it for you.’ … Those rebounds were crucial for us because they allowed us to get out on the break and kind of stop the bleeding….DeAndre has to be a big rebounder for us. Eight rebounds should be his minimum. That should be his minimum when he’s playing 31 minutes. He can do it once he focuses on it.
I just told them [at halftime] to relax. We were playing like we were afraid to make a mistake. Just relax and play your game and you’ll have a better opportunity to [play well]. If we play like this our offense will come around.”
We have to understand that you’re going to go through adversity. But adversity is only temporary, character lasts forever. And with our character we can win a lot of games.”
Shabazz Napier is still dealing with knee issues; he sat out a part of practice a while back. But he played 39 minutes.
UConn’s 26 first-half points were the lowest total this season. They had 28 at Houston.
There was some talk of postponing this game due to the big water-main break on North Eagleville Rd. Thankfully they got it straightened out.
Here is the UConn notebook for tomorrow’s Courant., with more on Harvard and Wesley Saunders, and the UConn minutes watch.
Omar Calhoun played only five minutes, none in the first half. “Omar has matured since his freshmen year,” Shabazz Napier said. “He understands. He’s going to get back in the gym and be ready. He’s going to come into a game and put a crazy spark in the game and we’re going to need him down the road. Today his number didn’t get called but one day is number is going to get called and he’s going to come in and tear it up.”
Here is Jeff Jacobs’ take on the game.