STORRS – Lots of excitement building for this non-conference showdown between UConn and Florida. Lots of buzz. This is going to be fun.
UConn finished up practice about noon on Sunday. Florida practiced in Gainesville and is making its way to Connecticut. Here are some notes, quotes and thoughts …
From Kevin Ollie’s interview:
“[Florida] is a great team. They come in with experience; they’ve got their point guard [Scottie Wilbekin] back …
“It’s a great opportunity for us. It’s a ranked team and it’s in our house. We want to protect our house and build ion what we’ve already created.
“They go after every rebound, punish inside, attack the paint. We want them to take contested twos, even threes. They play good defense, solid defense. Pressure defense, they want you to turn the ball over.
“[Casey Prather] is just a super athlete. He gets a lot off transition, cutting away from the basketball. We’ve got to be able to stand up to the challenge, keep him in front of us, make him a shooter.”
“[Practices] have been good. We worked the turkey out of them, the stuffing out of them. We’ve had three great practices. … This is a great moment that we have to seize.”
“[DeAndre Daniels’ improved rebounding] is just effort, going out to get the basketball. We’ve been holding on to our box-outs a little too long. Not jumping. We want to get rebounds off the rim, he started to do that in second half.
“This is going to come down to a grown-man basketball game, they’re going to throw it off the backboard and they’re going to go get it. We got to meet that challenge and we got to accept the challenge. We got to show our fans what this team is made out of.”
“[Our defense] has been pretty good, if you go by the numbers, but if you put rebounds in there, which you have to do … we’ve been a ‘C.’ You’ve got to finish a defensive possession with a rebound. But holding teams to what we’re holding them to [36 percent], if you look at numbers, it’s pretty damn good. … But we’ve got to finish with a rebound.”
“Phil [Nolan] – that was good [in the Loyola game] Phil made some good plays, he’s just got to finish, though. He made some terrific moves over his right shoulder with his right hand hook. We need to have him have the same productivity. We need somebody to take pressure off our guards. We can throw it down low and hopefully he can be productive.”
“[Omar Calhoun] has to make his teammate better. Don’t concentrate on your shooting, make your teammates better. It’s a funny way, when you try to make your teammates better, then everything works out for you. That’s my only key. I’m not a shooting guru. Be ready to shoot. Be positive. Be confident. But don’t be bogged down that you got to shoot to be on the court. You’ve got to play defense, got to rebound, you’ve got to help your teammates be better.”
“[Lasan] Kromah will on [Michael] Frazier a lot, that’s a big component for them, that’s the guy who stretches the defense for them.”
“I know they’re going to be strong, their program has stood the test of time. They’re going to be good next year and it’s good for us to have these kinds of opponents on our schedule. We’ll have to play in front of a hostile crowd and try to come out with a win. But we’ve got to take care of business this year. It’s going to be loud, packed [in Gampel], a nice experience for our guys.”
Ollie, who played in the game as a junior, recalled UConn’s OT loss to Florida in 1994 NCAA Tournament, in which Donyell Marshall missed two free throws at the end of regulation, and the Gators outscored the Huskies 12-3 in OT to win 69-60 in Miami.
“They played well, they had the crowd behind them, they had momentum,:” he said. “You know how it goes sometimes. It wasn’t carry over [from regulation.]. “We thought Donyell would make one free throw, he didn’t make it and they took it to us. It happens. It wasn’t Donyell’s fault. We had many plays before that, where it didn’t have to happen to end up in his hands like that. But we’re fine. Me and Donyell are cool. Coach [Jim Calhoun] won three national championships, so all is well in UConn-land.”
Programming note: Rich Coppola will have a lot on this rather memorable, albeit painful game on FoxCT Sunday night about 10:45 p.m.
Billy Donovan, who spoke to reporters in Gainesville after Florida’s practice, said he is not planning on having swing man DeVon Walker available for the game. Walker, who has had a foot sprain the last couple of weeks, did not practice. He’s a key part of the Gators’ bench.
Frazier, who has made 22 of 41 three-point attempts, does a lot of his damage off the catch. So UConn, with Kromah perhaps, will need to make him put it on the floor.
A little more on Casey Prather, of whom I wrote in an earlier post. “I think the game has finally slowed down for him,” Donovan said, “he’s playing with a clear head, where at times he was like a deer in the headlights.”
Ryan Boatright thinks this game means more “to the media, and for the rankings and stuff like that … but to us, it’s just another game on our schedule.”
Florida recruited DeAndre Daniels fairly hard, but he committed to Texas, then decommitted and came to UConn.
“I don’t know how close he was [to coming here],” Donovan said. “I really, really liked his skill-level. He’s a guy who I think has really benefitted from being in college a few years. A lot of guys have the impression they’re going to be ‘one-and-done.’ But as a coach, you’ve been through it a few years and you realize some kids need more time. Now, I think he’s put himself in a position to someday play in the NBA. He is 6-9, he does shoot threes, he’s a very, very skilled player and I think he has grown in a lot of ways from where he was as a freshman.”
Phil Nolan on his improvement against Loyola: “I’m just trying my best to be aggressive, without fouling at the same time.”
UConn says there are just a handful of scattered single seats available for the game. They are anticipating a sell-out. It would be wise to get to Gampel early.
Lots more coming on this game, including the capsule look at the matchup, on our main website later Sunday and in the Monday Courant.