PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Cold, icy night in Jersey, but the Huskies enjoyed a warm, fuzzy ride home. This was a game that could have gotten away – at Rutgers, big crowd. Conference wins on the road are never easy, and UConn did a good job absorbing the Rutgers’ run, steadying the ship and closing the game out.
Shabazz, Shabazz, Shabazz … another one of those sluggish first halves, explosive second halves. “The feel of the game changes at that point,” Niels Giffey said. “And you know he’s just taking it over.”
That kind of game for Napier and the Huskies. … There may be better players, but it would be hard to imagine a more valuable player on this level right now. Great players do what he did tonight, and good teams find ways to win games like this.
Kudos to DeAndre Daniels well deserved. Who thought, when you saw him helped off the court, that he’d be back? His presence in the second half meant something.
Terrence Samuel played five minutes, but had a key play in the game. Kevin Ollie’s confidence in him may be growing now.
The inside game was there: Amida Brimah, especially in the first half, and Phil Nolan. That’s becoming more consistent in conference play.
Now UConn has to start piling up these wins against the soft bottom of the conference – Houston next.
Here is the main game story for the Sunday Courant.
Here’s Kevin Ollie’s take:
Today’s game was a great game for everybody that played, and how we did it in the second half was remarkable – holding them down to 32 percent , I think it changed the game. I think the last 8:58 we held them to one basket, which is amazing.
We outrebounded a team again. We just gutted it out. ‘Bazz was pretty amazing that second half, scoring 20 points, but it took a team effort. Ryan [Boatright] got a great offensive rebound, Terrence [Samuel] came in and got a wonderful three-point play when there was a little turbulence on the plane and settled us down.
Phillip [Nolan] and Amida [Brimah] played great down low. Phil, you look on the stat sheet you’re not going to see a lot of numbers, but his defensive presence – being up on pick and rolls, Amida in the first half giving us those second chance points, that was great.
Any time as a coach you look at the stat sheet and you see points in the paint, 34-12, that means the team played aggressive, played assertive, they out-willed their opponent. That’s what they did tonight.
Rutgers is getting this thing turned around. I‘ve got so much admiration for coach Eddie Jordan. I I know he’s going to do a great job. … Maybe the last time we’ll be playing in the RAC and it’s good to come out with a win.
I was very surprised DeAndre [Daniels] was able to come back. It was a high ankle sprain and anybody knows who played basketball or any sport that a high ankle sprain is very, very painful. It’s one of the most severe ones you can have. He just gutted it out. That’s what it’s all about, and that’s the toughness we need to see, and not only our coaches but our players need to see. Just going to there and gutting it out no matter what. We tell our players that all the time and he was a living testimony of it.
Omar [Calhoun], tweaked his ankle last game. … He came to shoot around and he just didn’t have lateral movement, so we decided to sit him out this game. Hopefully he’ll be back for Houston, hopefully DeAndre will be back for Hosuton. If not we’ve got to play with who we’ve got, we’ve got to play hard, going to have to play tough, we’ve got to play together.
It was just a tough environment. It was blackout night and I told the guys, we had our blue out night and that wasn’t successful so let’s go spoil somebody else’s night.
I was just proud of the toughness we showed. I come in here sometimes and say we’ve got to play harder, but these guys are getting it. They’re getting the message. They’re playing together. It’s a great win in a hostile environment, it gets us over .500 [in the AAC], a big momentum game for us. We’ve got a lot of teams we’re looking up at, Cincinnati, Louisville, we’ve got to stay right on their heels and beat them when we play them head to head.
[On Myles] Mack, we just blitzed his pick and rolls. With him, if you give him any kind of spaced he’s going to knock down shots and he’s a key to a lot of their runs from the three point line – I won’t even say the three point line, he’d be way beyond the three-point line. We wanted to make it hard for him. Boatright did a good job, and not only Boatright, Phil stepped up, Amida stepped up. In our bigger lineup we had some other guys on him. We just wanted to tag him, not give him easy looks and I think we did a good job with that, it really allowed us to control tempo of the game
I put the ball [Shabazz Napier’s] hands in different situations. You know, he drives me crazy sometimes but that’s the guy that I’m going to count on. I’m going to put the ball in his hands and I know he’s going to make a couple of mistakes here and there, but I know he’s going to be there for me, he’s going to be rock solid when I need him most. That second half was up there with a lot of great second halves that our great players have played. You put the ball in his hands and he just makes plays, play after play after play, our guys get him open and it was just a wonderful job.
But like I said, it was a team effort, too. Boatright got to the lane, we ran some plays for him and he got a couple of buckets. Amida got a couple of buckets, that’s what we need.
I really like that 32 percent. We can talk about offensive all we want, but I really hang my hat on defense and rebounding and I think we showed up great in the second half.
The UConn notebook for the Sunday Courant has the injury info.
Here’s Eddie Jordan on the Shabazz show:
It was one of those nights where we almost had to play a perfect game. They’re a very good team, with a great player. And when the floor opens up like that and a great player does his thing, it’s very frustrating and the frustration got to us a little bit.
They opened the floor up, NBA-like. Kevin Ollie is a young coach but he’s very good, very experienced, he’s been around. He knows if you have a great player like that, you open the floor up and let him do his thing. If he’s got it cooking, it’s a hard thing to guard. He’s a good passer, he’s unselfish, and yet he’s an assassin.
We did a good job, they were running pick and rolls and we were able to run another guy at him. We were able to trap him a couple of times, which was good for us. But they didn’t run any more pick and rolls, they just opened up the floor.