The thing about having a weak front line is that your guards have to play well every game and the few front court players you do have also need to show up. If not, things can go bad, as the Huskies saw tonight in a closer-than-it-should-have-been 77-71 win over Wake Forest. The combined forces of foul trouble (both Tyler Olander and DeAndre Daniels sat for much of the first half) and a mysteriously quiet Shabazz Napier (who didn't score his first basket until the 10 minute mark of the second half) meant that the Demon Deacons gave the Huskies all they could handle through the first 30 minutes.
UConn took control in the end, although a young and stubborn Wake team didn't let them completely seal the win until the final seconds. Although many of the Huskies struggled, Ryan Boatright put together the most complete performance of the young season, scoring 16 points while adding seven rebounds and five assists. Napier, whose quiet first 30 minutes underscored just how important he is to this team, pitched in an additional 16 points in the last ten minutes, nine of which came from the free throw line.
Napier eventually found his form, but the same can't be said for fellow starter Tyler Olander, who only saw 12 minutes of action after his early foul trouble. That's not good, and performances like that are going to put a serious dent in UConn's chances of overcoming stiffer competition, but the Huskies had some help tonight from an unexpected source: Enosch Motherf@#$ing Wolf. Wolf played easily his best game in a UConn uniform, scoring 12 points on 6-6 shooting and grabbing nine rebounds. I don't now how often UConn can expect Wolf to perform like that, but if he can put up even half those numbers on a consistent basis it will mean a lot.
DeAndre Daniels also deserves some credit. He struggled with fouls early, but wound up with 12 points and made more than his share of athletic plays. Meanwhile, freshman Omar Calhoun once again struggled from deep (that's two times in three games), which was reflected by the team as a whole -- the Huskies shot a a putrid 3-18 from beyond the arc.
I don't think anyone would dispute that this was UConn's weakest game of the season. Luckily for them, it also came against UConn's weakest opponent to date, so they were still able to get a win. Tonight's performance underscored the fact that UConn, if it wants to succeed this year, has very little margin for error. They might be able to get by with one key player having an off night, but things will get dicey if more than one struggles (and for the record that group of key players is Napier, Boatright, Daniels and Olander).
But a win is a win, so UConn moves on. They'll take on the winner of Quinnipiac and Iona on Sunday.