STORRS – This past week, someone asked on our live chat what was so special about Kevin Ollie’s performance as head coach. After all, UConn was only beating the teams it was supposed to beat.
Two things: Michigan State and Notre Dame on the road wouldn’t fit that category and, well, in the Big East beating all the teams you’re supposed to beat it kind of special. Neither Louisville nor Syracuse can necessarily say they have done that. Even teams at the bottom of the league are going to be competitive and pick one off occasionally.
That nearly happened here, where UConn, probably in a let-down from the emotional game at Providence, stunk out the joint in the first half, played sluggishly and hit 5 of 27 in the first half. At one point, I saw George Blaney, 73, get the attention of every player on the floor, clap and exhort them to pick it up. More energy.
The Huskies were down 12, but they out-scored USF 15-2 to start the second half, hung in and managed to win on OT. Not a pretty win, made harder than it should have been, sure, but a win. And in this season, accumulating wins is what it’s about. The Huskies are at 15. On the day Roscoe Smith transferred last spring, Jim Calhoun vowed to me on the phone that UConn, not having had a losing season in 25 years, wasn’t going to start now. His successor has proved him correct. UConn now has 15, and cannot have a losing season. Very few took that for granted six or seven months ago.
Here is the game story for the Monday Courant. All Shabazz Napier, all the time.
How about Leon Tolksdorf getting some key minutes in the first half, knocking down a three? Kevin Ollie wanted to reward him for his work in practice – you do see the kid out there by himself early, late, working on his shooting – with some minutes. He thought the match-up made it do-able, and said he’d like to get Tolksdorf, who hadn’t played since Jan. 8, in some games now.
Here’s a little from USF coach Stan Heath:
“The first half I thought we played very well, extremely well. And I look at these numbers and you tell me we’re going to hold them to 29 percent shooting, 33 percent from three, and we’re going to out-rebound them, I’m thinking we’re leaving here with a win. We had great opportunities. We didn’t close the game very well. We had a rebound that we could have killed some time, maybe shot some free throws. We had some foul opportunities that we didn’t execute very well – we fouled the wrong guys.
I give UConn a lot of credit. They started the second half much more intense, sped us up a little bit, forced some turnovers, forced some quick shots, and got themselves going. Napier, especially in the second half, was fantastic.
We had been defending so well. I didn’t see it coming that they’d score so easily so quick. But some of that was us offensively – settling for long threes and not finishing some layups. We have to fix that second half start. It’s not the first time it’s happened to us.”
Here is Kevin Ollie’s take on the game
UConn honored Shabazz Napier, R.J. Evans, Niels Giffey and Tolksdorf for making the honor roll in the fall semester, 3.0 or higher in GPA. “I’m glad my mother was here to see that,” Napier said. “I’m doing this for her.”
Here is our picture gallery from John Woike.
Here is your box score
A little more player reaction:
“[Ollie] got on us about coming out flat, not playing together. We were playing selfish. … We just came out and played terrible in the first half. I think that’s the worst I’ve ever seen us play as a team and individually. … When we came in at halftime, we knew we had to get it together. We came out and just put forth some effort. When we started putting forth effort, things started to come together for us. We’re a good team. We fight to the end. We’ve got heart.”
“We weren’t playing with any energy, any passion, we were just kind of going through the motions. We’re lucky the fans stayed.”
At the game: former Huskies guard Taliek Brown, who is apparently taking some classes, and future Huskies guard Terrence Samuel. … Rough days for DeAndre Daniels, who shot 2 for 10 and fouled out, and Omar Calhoun, who was 1-for-8. Take out Shabazz Napier (7 for 14), and the rest of the Huskies were 10 for 43. Napier: “One thing about this team, when people are stuggling, we can fall back on so many different guys.”