Boston Colleges: Connecticut Huskies

UConn toughs out win over Harvard

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
11:30
PM ET
STORRS, Conn. -- Like a boxer who’s taken a few good shots to the chin, the University of Connecticut Huskies were reeling.

After road losses to Houston and SMU dropped the Huskies to 11-3 and knocked them from the Top 25, Harvard had them on the ropes after the first 20 minutes Wednesday night.

Without their best all-around player in Wesley Saunders, who’s out indefinitely with a knee injury, the Crimson capitalized on 11 UConn miscues to the tune of 14 points off turnovers in the first half and led 31-26 at the break.

[+] EnlargeRyan Boatright
John Woike/Hartford Courant/Getty ImagesRyan Boatright said being able to regroup at halftime allowed UConn to push back against Harvard.
“We were thinking too much,” UConn junior Ryan Boatright said. “We really weren’t playing the way that we’re accustomed to playing. We came out a little sluggish once again. And they came out and they were ready to play, they wanted to beat us.

“Once we went back in the locker room, we knew we had took their best punch and we had to come out with a better demeanor.”

Though UConn shot 57.9 percent in the half, coach Kevin Ollie needed to remind his players that they didn’t have to press and try to do too much.

“There was a lot of extra weight on our shoulders,” Ollie said. “I just told the guys to relax at halftime and play the game. Win or lose, you just play together and play relaxed. When you play relaxed you have a better opportunity to play to your strengths.”

The Huskies did that after halftime and came away with a hard-fought 61-56 win.

Boatright opened the second-half scoring with a short jumper in the lane, the Huskies cut down on their turnovers and big men DeAndre Daniels and Amida Brimah started altering or blocking the Crimson’s shots in the paint.

And after a back-and-forth first few minutes, UConn used an 11-2 run to open up a nine-point lead.

“I’m going to keep saying that word, we were connected,” Ollie said. “When it was a bad play, we recovered. And that’s what you do, you go on to the next play and you respond as a team.”

So when Siyani Chambers drilled a 3-pointer to cut that lead down to just two with 3:08 remaining, the Huskies needed to find another counterpunch.

Shabazz Napier, just 2-for-8 up to that point, provided one. The senior got open in the left corner for a 3, and though the shot looked true, it kicked out. Luckily for UConn, Harvard’s Steve Moundou-Missi couldn’t corral the rebound, with the 7-foot Brimah on him, and the Huskies got another chance to recover.

Napier didn’t miss this time, drilling a 3 from in front of the Huskies’ bench.

“Our recovery is getting better,” Ollie said. “It’s getting better. Down in Houston, we couldn’t recover off a couple instances. But we recovered tonight and every run they had, every 3-pointer they had, we challenged them and we played our type of basketball.”

Kyle Casey tried to get the three points back on the next possession, missing a 3 from the corner, and the ball wound up back in Napier’s hands.

This time, he was isolated on Brandyn Curry out past the line. Because the Harvard co-captain had been going for the ball-fake on drives all game, Napier had a plan.

[+] EnlargeChambers
David Butler II/USA TODAY SportsWith Wesley Saunders out with a knee injury, Siyani Chambers and Harvard didn't have enough.
“If I gave him a hard-step, stepback I was going to be open,” he said. “I was fortunate to be given a lot of space and I just tried to knock it down. And I made it.”

With the lead back to eight with 1:30 to play, it seemed UConn could exhale. But Harvard wasn’t ready to throw in the towel, and its other co-captain, Laurent Rivard, delivered a four-point play (when Napier got a little too aggressive closing out and fouled him on a 3) and a three-point play.

And with nine seconds left, a travel call on Niels Giffey gave the Crimson a chance to tie with a 3.

“It’s exactly what we needed,” Ollie said of the challenge the Ivy Leaguers brought to Storrs. “This team is going to test if you’re going to be disciplined. And we wanted to be competitive but we also wanted to stay in our principles.

“If you want to play a team that’s going to challenge you in those areas, this is the team. Because they’ll run the shot clock down and then they’ve got Chambers and they’ve got Casey, they’ve got some big-time basketball players over there.”

If the Huskies were going to escape with a much-needed win, they would need to make one last defensive stop.

And when a UConn player just got a hand on the ball and forced Curry to juggle and then try to throw it back to Chambers, only to be intercepted by Daniels, they had it.

Daniels hit two free throws and UConn had escaped.

“Nothing in life is going to be easy,” Napier said. “You’re going to have a lot of bumps in the road. But you’ve just got to learn from it. I think if we continue to learn from it, we’re going to be a better team for it.”

Though it’s still relatively early in the season, it was clear Wednesday’s game meant a lot to UConn. The Huskies didn’t want to enter American Athletic Conference play in earnest on a three-game losing streak.

“That was definitely a must-win,” Boatright said afterward. “If we lost three straight, it would’ve been terrible for us. And those three games we were favored to win. So for us to get that win gives us our confidence back, gives us our swagger back and just gets us back on the positive end of things.”

Though he stopped short of calling it a must-win, Ollie clearly was thrilled with the fight his team displayed.

“We recovered. That’s the biggest thing, I’m going to keep saying it over and over again,” he said. “You’ve got to recover, you’ve got to respond the right way and you’ve got to stay together. A lot of guys could have split apart because we had two tough losses, but these guys, they’ve got something special.

“And this season is going to be something special for us if we stick together and we keep playing for one another and understand that we’re going to face adversity. But adversity is just temporary. Character lasts forever. I think this team has the character to win a lot of games.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Five things: Connecticut-Boston College

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
10:32
PM ET


Here are five quick thoughts from No. 18 Connecticut’s 72-70 win over Boston College on Thursday evening at Madison Square Garden:

X factor: When people talk about UConn, they usually start with the talented backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. But DeAndre Daniels is the player who can turn this team from good into great.

The 6-foot-9, 195-pound junior scored just 19 points in the Huskies’ first three games, including a goose egg against Yale. But in the team’s past two games, he’s exploded for 24 against Boston University and 23 versus Boston College.

Daniels is a matchup nightmare -- he can shoot the 3 or take it to the rim and has some crafty moves in the paint. If he turns into a reliable offensive threat, watch out.

The other end: Napier and Boatright didn’t have great games offensively. Napier did score 20 but shot just 6-for-17 from the field with only two assists; Boatright scored nine. But they did an excellent job on defense, blanketing Boston College star guard Olivier Hanlan.

Hanlan, last year’s ACC Rookie of the Year, came in averaging 24.5 points per game and went off for 38 in BC’s last game, a win over Florida Atlantic. But Napier and Boatright shadowed Hanlan everywhere he went Thursday night.

Hanlan still managed to score 19 points, but he had to work awfully hard to get them.

Contenders: We’re only five games into the season, but we’ve seen enough to say this Connecticut team is capable of making a run to the Final Four.

Four different players are capable of scoring 20-plus on any given night -- sophomore guard Omar Calhoun has that potential, too. They have capable, if somewhat raw, bigs. And they have experience, despite being ineligible for the postseason last year.

Speaking of Hanlan: Yes, he finished under his scoring average. But he was impressive nonetheless.

The best part about Hanlan’s night was he didn’t force the issue. Most big-time scorers would feel the need to hoist up shots regardless of the defense. Hanlan played under control (5-for-14 from the field, 7-for-8 from the foul line), scoring when he could and trying to create for teammates when he couldn’t.

Many teams BC will face this season won’t have guards as quick as Napier and Boatright. Hanlan will have plenty of big games.

Eagles forecast: Boston College did a very nice job hanging around against a more talented opponent. The Eagles could have wilted twice -- when they fell behind by 11 in the first half and when they again fell behind by 11 in the second half. But they bounced back both times to remain within striking distance.

They even had a 3-point shot attempt from near midcourt at the final buzzer that would have won the game, but Boatright blocked Lonnie Jackson’s attempt.

On a hot shooting night, Boston College could beat just about any team in the country. But the Eagles shot just 8-for-25 from beyond the arc Thursday night. That wasn’t quite good enough to take out UConn.

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