BRIDGEPORT – Okay, first off, I have to admit I was wrong about the crowd here at Webster Bank Arena. I thought it would be pretty raucous, and it wasn’t. It was very quiet for most of the game, though, to be fair, it was kind of a dull game.
Bottom line, though, UConn did fill the place – the crowd announced was 9,274, the largest ever for a sporting event in t he building. The Huskies won, a lot of families and Fairfield County residents who don’t normally get to see them, got to see them. It was a good day.
“It was great, I think we should definitely do it [again],” Shabazz Napier said. “There are a lot of things Bridgeport can do that XL and Gampel can’t, but at the end of the day I love Gampel and I’d rather play there every single game.”
That’s about right. But with the students off campus this time of year anyway, why not play here?
Now, the game. Sluggish at the start, but a strong finish and a reasonably good win for UConn. They came from behind to out-rebound Eastern Washington, and did exactly what they wanted to do, as laid out by Kevin Ollie on Friday, they attacked the basket again and got to the foul line.
“If they shoot 25 for 27 from the line every day they’ll go to the Final Four,” EWU coach Jim Hayford said. “You can’t defend the free throw line.”
With so many players from Europe and Australia, who wouldn’t be getting home for Christmas, Hayford said he wanted to take them to “the greatest city in the world to spend Christmas,” meaning New York City. EWU played Seton Hall and UConn and spent the holiday in the city, and made enough from the guarantees of both games to bolster the school’s athletic program.
Kevin Ollie’s take:
“First of all, I want to thank the crowd. I think there were a lot of families in the audience that have probably never seen us play before. I felt the energy from the crowd. It was just a great family atmosphere. It took them a while to really start cheering because we didn’t really give them an opportunity. We were playing really good defense, but we were giving up offensive rebounds. … I think it was a good show. We could have been a little more solid, but I really appreciate my team and its effort. That’s one half. Now we go to the second half and league play, with Harvard stuck in there.
I think Omar was big with those two threes, and then the next play when Shabazz threw the behind-the-back pass to Niels, kind of broke the game open a little bit.
All in all, we were good. We had five guys in double-figures, which I like.
It’s about our rebounding. We discuss it all the time. When we rebound, we can use our speed to dictate the game.
To give up 10 offensive rebounds in the first half is unacceptable, especially with all the time that we have invested into rebounding. But in the second half, we limited them to six and ended up winning the rebounding battle. That’s a good victory for us.
Phil [Nolan] was great. He responded the right way. That’s what I like. He was out of the starting lineup but he had his career-high. It’s not about who is starting, it’s about who’s taking care of their minutes.
It was a big character game for us. And two of the guys who showed great character were Omar [Calhoun] and Phil. The guys I trust are going to be in there at the end, when we need a stop, when we need GAPs – that’s what we call them, G-A-P, game-altering plays, and that’s what Omar had with those threes..
We were outstanding from the free-throw line again….You see it, we’re not settling for a lot of threes….We’re not settling for the contested threes. We do want to shoot threes. I’m a big proponent of threes, but the right type of threes. But I think our quickness and our speed is something that we have to exploit. And I think we got caught up with shooting a lot of threes. But now we’re getting back to basics and we’re getting to the rim….It’s indicative of us creating pressure, offensively and defensively. But I love us attacking because that allows us to create mismatches.
“[Niels Giffey] played well, he played well. … Niels is a solid guy. I hate using the word ‘glue guy’ because he’s so much more than that. He’s the consummate pro. He’s a professional. Everything I ask from him, he does it. Of course, everybody’s got a couple of deficiencies. He’s got a couple of weaknesses he’s got to work on. But he plays hard, that’s why I love playing him and that’s why he gets the minutes on this team that he gets.”
He has not taken enough shots to qualify for the NCAA’s percentage leaders, but Giffey’s shooting has been remarkable, thanks to great shot selection and discipline. He took only one three, it was wide open and he made it. He was 4 for 5 from the floor. This season, he is 21 for 37 from three, 37 for 54 from the field.
How about Nolan from the line? That makes 11 in a row – who would have thought that last year? This and more is in the UConn notebook for the Sunday Courant.
Got to save something for tomorrow … we’ll look at how sophomores Omar Calhoun and Phil Nolan have responded to being taken out of the starting lineup, and how they are building their games.
“I couldn’t continue to start, the way I’d been playing,” said Calhoun, who, like Nolan last week, handled it with a lot of maturity.