BRIDGEPORT – Some notes, quotes, thoughts from UConn’s practice on Friday at Webster Bank Arena …
Kevin Ollie (41st) and Ryan Boatright (21st) were celebrating birthdays. After practice, the players chased Ollie down and tried to tackle him.
“We just tapped him a little bit,” Boatright said. “You don’t want to hit him too hard, you might end up on the bench.”
Ollie said he just wants a win for his birthday. Boatright said, “that’s fine for my teammates, but my family has a little tougher job.”
Ollie talked a lot about speed, the way the Huskies used it at Washington to get to the line 25 times, and he wants to see more of that. Our main advance story and capsule look at the game will be going up soon on our main website.
Coming to Bridgeport for a game raised a few eyebrows, but I think it’s a good idea and will work out well for UConn. This is a unique market, with so many fairly big cities in a relatively small state, and the chance to galvanize the fan base by playing a game in Fairfield County is a unique opportunity.
The arena will be filled – there were only scattered single seats still available – and it will be filled with people who don’t usually get to games, so it could be one of the loudest, most enthusiastic crowds of the year.
“We’re excited,” Ollie said, “hopefully we’ll be able to make this a home venue. We’ll have 9,500 screaming Husky fans in here.”
Niels Giffey said it felt like neutral ground during practice, but that will change when the fans file in.
Bottom line, this would have been a run-of-the-mill game against a no-name opponent at XL or Gampel. Here it will be a fairly big deal.
“They love us,” Shabazz Napier said, “but they can’t always get to us. So we’re coming to them.”
Napier sat the last few minutes of practice with a sore leg. Nothing big. He’ll play tomorrow.
EWU likes to shoot the three. They were 10 for 27 in the loss at Seton Hall, and they average 22.4 attempts. “We’re going to have to run them off the three-point line,” Ollie said. “That’s something we’ve done pretty well during the year.”
UConn’s opponents are 63 for 209 on threes.
Ollie said he’d like to get Kentan Facey some more minutes. Getting Terrence Samuel into games has been hard, he said, because of the way the starting guards have been playing.
He said he could be “tempted” to stay with the same lineup that started the second half against Washington, which included Amida Brimah and Lasan Kromah. Ollie and the coaches planned to figure that out at the team hotel on Saturday. (My guess is he stays with Omar Calhoun and tries to get him straightened out again.)
EWU has three German players. One, Martin Seiferth, from Berlin, has known Niels Giffey since they were kids. Seiferth’s older brother played with Giffey on travel teams. “As soon as this game was scheduled, [Martin] called me,” Giffey said, “what are the odds we’d be playing each other, me on the East Coast, him on the West Coast?”
Kevin Ollie gets 16 seats for home games, as per his contract, and they will be put to use by family and friends from Bridgeport, where his wife, Stephanie, grew up.
“We definitely were getting to the line [against Washington],” Shabazz Napier said. “The court seemed much smaller. Guys were willing to do something different; that Stanford [loss on Dec. 18] put a lot of things in perspective. Guys were saying ‘maybe our shots aren’t dropping, maybe we get to the basket a lot better than we did before. A lot of things changed after we lost …”
AAC play begins on Dec. 31 at Houston. There will be one non-conference game mixed in, Jan. 8 at Gampel against Harvard, otherwise it’s all American from here on out.