At the end of the game, Tim Welch, former Providence coach who was annoucing the game for SNY, called UConn's 76-66 win over Loyola "very business-like."
In a lot of ways, it was.
This was a trap game. We all knew that. UConn won a hard-fought, emotional game against a good Indiana team at Madison Square Garden over the weekend and have Florida staring them in the face after Thanksgiving. It was taken for granted that UConn could look past this Patriot League team.
Certainly, the Huskies didn't come out and play a crisp 40 minutes. There was a lot not to like about this game, as there has been many times already throughout the course of the young season. But the biggest fear of a trap game is losing. They didn't do that and, to their credit, UConn never really put themselves in a position where Loyola seemed poised to actually take command of the game.
It looked like UConn was in line for a laugher in the first half when, in the blink of an eye, the Huskies opened up a double-digit lead with a few minutes left to play. However, Loyola went on a 7-0 run to end the half, cutting UConn's lead to eight, 34-26. A lot of that had to do with an about 40 second stretch of pure crappiness from Phillip Nolan, who missed an easy point-blank hook shot, threw away an inbounds pass, then committed a moving screen foul. It was really quite impressive to watch.
In the second half, DeAndre Daniels took over. He was a virtual non-factor in the first half, with three points and, I believe, one rebound. He ended the game with 23 points and eight boards.
For some reason Daniels seemed to thrive when Shabazz Napier, who had a quiet yet productive night tonight, got benched early in the second half after he got beat twice in short order on back-door passes for easy layups. Whether Ollie was sending a message to his star guard or not, Shabazz rode the pine for a considerable amount of time. That's when Daniels really shined.
He was aggressive to the hole and didn't hesitate when left alone for threes. He helped UConn open up another double-digit lead on Loyola and he kept that momentum up throughout the rest of the half.
The other star of the game, to me, was Lasan Kromah. He ended up with 12 points, three rebounds and three assists, but it just seemed like he made a lot of really good hustle plays, ran the floor well, and layed really good first-half defense on Loyola's best player, Dylon Cormier. In fact, UConn seemed to go away from having Kromah on Cormier in the second half for some reason, and the talented guard was able to rip UConn for a big second half on his way to 23 points.
There were some other good signs as well. Niels Giffey looked good, doing more than just hitting threes. I think His Paleness had two dunks in the game, which has to be some kinda record. Also, while Boatright was still erratic in this game, especially in the first half (some of those passes were just God-aweful), he was much better than he was at MSG. When Shabazz was out at the beginning of the second half, he did a nice job running the team effectively and made some of his usual Boat-show plays driving to the basket. He ended up with 13 points and eight huge rebounds (it's amazing he can get up as high as he can for such a little guy).
Yet, there are still some things you don't like seeing.
First, even though UConn did what it needed to do in a trap game against a plucky opponent - win - they once again played down to their opponent. Loyola shouldn't have been within 15 of UConn most of this game, yet the Huskies once again played just bad enough to keep their advisary around.
Second ... rebounding. The Huskies ended up with a 40-39 advantage, but come on. They should have easily won the glass tonight. What's really annoying is that it's clearly a hustle thing. UConn this season has already hung with Maryland and Indiana, two teams known for their rebounding prowess. They stayed right with those guys and didn't get pushed around. They CAN rebound ... it just doesn't seem like they always want to.
Third, the big men haven't really progressed much at all. Phillip Nolan played better in the second half than in the first, but he's just a really sloppy player who gets boxed out too easily, misses easy, open shots with frequency, and can't stop from fouling. Amida Brimah has shown how raw he can be. Yes, he's a great shot blocker, but he always goes for the block no matter what, and it results in him getting into foul trouble. He just doesn't seem to yet understand exactly how to play defense. And Tyler Olander ... please. I can't even talk about how bad he is. Whenever he's on the floor, UConn's opponent should attack the middle...mercilessly.
Yet, UConn is now 7-0. They didn't play great but they played well enough. Kevin Ollie needs to address this inconsistency. He seems to understand that, as his post-game comments indicated. But 7-0 is 7-0 and they were able to avoid a loss in the trap game.
UConn gets to relax and take a break now. Bring on Florida baby!