NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 06: Jeremy Lamb #3 of the Connecticut Huskies goes to the hoop for a basketagainst Jeremiah Kelly #11 of the DePaul Blue Demons during their first round game of the 2012 Big East Men's Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 6, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
For the first time in a long time this UConn team is starting to look like, well, a UConn team. The Huskies still aren't playing to the level of their potential, but in their convincing 81-67 win over DePaul they showed enough to make me believe they're on their way and headed in the right direction. Now the only issue is if they'll have time to get there.
Jeremy Lamb will get a lot of the headlines and deservedly so. The sophomore looked like the lottery pick he's projected to be, pouring in 17 points in the first half and 25 overall. He started out red-hot from beyond the arc, hitting his first three threes (he finished 3-6) and provided an early tone-setting spark.
But we all knew that Lamb was capable of games like that, what was news to me -- and refreshing news at that -- is that Shabazz Napier came ready to play. Foul trouble limited Napier to just 16 minutes and five points, but he had six assists and his decision making was fantastic. He got his teammates involved, set a solid pace and kept the game under control. The one glaringly bad play he made was passing up a wide-open three, but if we're at the point that we're criticizing Shabazz for not taking shots, I think we're in a good place. Commenters have noted that Napier was affected by Jim Calhoun's absence more than anyone else on the team and his play in the two games since Calhoun's return would seem to indicate that Napier really is better when Calhoun is around.
In fact, the whole team is.
This was UConn's most complete game since February 15th, the last time they saw DePaul. Roscoe Smith continued his hardworking ways, grabbing eight rebounds and seven points while Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi terrorized the smaller Blue Demons, combining for eight blocks.
Ryan Boatright stepped up too, taking advantage of Napier's limited minutes and posting 19 points, five rebounds and seven assists. When a line like appears below the jump you know it was a good day.
Still, it was just DePaul and we'll learn a lot more tomorrow when the Huskies square off with West Virginia. If UConn does win it will be the first time all year they've beaten three straight Big East teams and I'll allow myself to fully buy in to their resurgence.
A week ago Jim Calhoun was recovering from back surgery in a hospital bed and his team was in complete disarray, melting down against Providence. Today, with Calhoun back on the sidelines UConn was able to jump out to an early lead and maintain it. DePaul did fight back in the second half, at one point cutting a 24-point lead down to nine, but the Huskies withstood that charge, along with several other bursts. That's not something I'm sure this team would have done last week.
It's late to try to turning everything around. It may be too late. But there is reason for UConn fans to hope. The Huskies can keep playing for as long as they want -- all they have to do is win, and for the first time in months it seems like winning is something they want to do.