ORLANDO, Fla. – What a wonderful world it would be, in Connecticut, if it could be like this all the time … if the Huskies could rebound well all the time … if they could pass the ball and get a lot of assists all the time … if the big men could get the ball and score in the paint all the time … if there was less dribbling …
… If the Huskies played Central Florida all the time.
UConn did all the things it did not do against Cincinnati, or Louisville, or SMU in large part because they were not playing Cincinnati or Louisville on Sunday night. They were playing UCF, 9-12, 1-9-in-the league, eight-game-losing-streak UCF. So it was like a test-tube game, a chance to work on all the elements the Huskies need to be successful in a stress-reduced environment. It was good, a good, resounding 75-55 win, which was so badly needed after the game at Cincinnati.
Perhaps the Huskies can string a few of these together now – eight would be nice, with South Florida, Memphis, SMU, Cincinnati and Rutgers all coming to Connecticut and the road games at Temple and Rutgers. Then the Huskies could go into the last regular season game at Louisville with confidence and a ton of momentum.
UCF provided nothing if not a chance to build confidence. For 10 minutes, the Huskies played almost perfect basketball and ran away with the game with a 24-6 spurt. The second half … well, that was just crazy, with behemoth Justin McBride coming in and dominating for about seven minutes. Two steals by Shabazz Napier snatched the game back for UConn and then it was clear sailing. Here’s the main game story for the Monday Courant.
Here’s Kevin Ollie’s take:
“We started out in the first half playing UConn basketball. It was 18-17 and we went on a 24-6 run, and that’s what we’re capable of doing. In the second half we got a little sloppy, a little complacent. We turned the ball over.
[Isaiah] Sykes had a quick six points and then we started loading up, we got himin foul trouble. We had 10- eyes on him and made him pass it out.
… Rebounding. We rebounded and we went on the fast break. Lasan [Kromah] was terrific, getting to the rim – not only getting to the rim, he was all over the place, getting steals, making amazing layups
‘Bazz was making terrific passes, everyone was running, playing together, playing unselfish.
We started messing around with the game a little bit but we composed ourselves and got a 20-point win.
Passing a big factor, we had nine assists in the first half and ended with 11, which I’m not too happy about. But we were Sharing the basketball, getting the ball ahead, not settling. They took what we were trying to teach in practice and they brought it to the game But the key for us was rebounding.
We ran first play with [DeAndre], he got to the paint. Then they corralled him a little bit. All in all, he played a good game. He got seven rebounds, he was right around the basket, he got a lot of touches.
[McBride] is a load down there. We got to get in front of him. They were coming off the pick and roll, getting it in there for him, we’ve got to push him. We got to do a better job, we’re going to be facing guys like that. We’ve got to do a better job in the paint and Amida [Brimah’s] got to stay on the court.
But I was very pleased with Phillip [Nolan], coming in, 5 for 5, giving us that balance we need down low.
We had some let-downs today but all in all, we played good defense, we got them down to 39 percent.
And ‘Bazz was great with the ball pressure, that‘s what kind of turned the momentum in second half. That’s what he can do. He’s a great leader, he made us composed when we got down, they hit a three to put it to [57-49] then we got two quick steals. I’m very pleased we got ‘Vazz on my side,
We had five guys in double figures, I don’t think we did that since Eastern Washington [Dec. 28].
Omar [Calhoun] got banged up, seeing some stars a little bit he couldn’t come back in the game.”
From Shabazz Napier:
“I wasn’t too worried. We started playing sloppy. … The big guy ‘[McBride] was doing anything he wanted to do, it was kind of entertaining. He came in the game, he’s a big guy, it was difficult to get in front of him or get around him.
But I wasn’t worried.
… I just felt like [Brandon Goodwin] was getting a little sloppy with the ball,. Not protecting it. I went for crossover and I hit it. The second time, I just did one of my old pick-pocket moves.
I was just trying to get us back where the coaches were comfortable, the players were comfortable on the floor.
We were just having fun [in the first half], playing basketball the way it should be played, playing defense and going with it. Lasan was definitely in there with steals, creating havoc. We were jiust doing what we do best, playing defense and running.”
From DeAndre Daniels
“It felt very good, but I was rusty today. I’d give myself a D, but all that matters is we got the W. It was good just to be out there. I missed a lot of easy layups and shots at the foul line. I was rusty today but it was fun just to be out there. They tried to get me open early. I felt like I rushed the shot a couple of times and I got tired, actually, kind of quick. I thought I’d be in better shape.
KO said ‘settle down, let it come to you’ and that’s what I did.”
From Phil Nolan
“In practice, we worked on the bigs ducking in as hard as we could and that’s what we did in the game. And Shabazz found us.”
[McBride] was pretty big. We didn’t have much of a scouting report on him, he hadn’t played too much
We caught on last minute, he had that right hand hook, just stay on that side.”
A couple of former Huskies were in the hours – Nantambu Willingham (1991-95) and Jeff Carr (1975-79). Dee Rowe was down for the game, too.
The Huskies flew commercial from Cincinnati to Orlando, but were back on a charter to get home Sunday night
Do they remain ranked? The loss to Cincinnati should hurt some, but this win evens it a little. And a number of ranked teams lost. It’s possible UConn remains in the rankings, but my guess is they’ll fall just off the fringe. Plenty of time to change that.
Heading home, talk to you soon.