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UConn 78, AIC 63: It's a start

It wasn't pretty, but a strong second half should give UConn fans some hope.

Jim Rogash

Well, it's definitely Kevin Ollie's team now. Ollie's Huskies beat AIC 78-63 in front of a somewhat-filled Gampel Pavilion crowd, and showed that while there are certainly some bright spots on this roster, the Huskies sure have a lot of stairs left to climb. Some quick thoughts:

  • The start of the game was absolutely brutal. The Huskies didn't necessarily get outplayed, but they hit only one of their first 11 shots and quickly fell behind 12-2. I'm sure I wasn't the only UConn fan sweating at that point, but luckily the Huskies turned things around. Still, with a lineup this small UConn absolutely cannot afford to go cold like that. The Huskies shot over 50 percent the rest of the game (and were over 40 percent from three including the cold streak), and they'll need to replicate that kind of performance to hang with tougher opponents.
  • After slow starts Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun both had enormous second halves. UConn has struggled coming out of the break for what seems like forever, but they certainly didn't tonight, as Boatright put on a one-man show in the first five minutes of the second half, giving the Huskies the lead for good.
  • Calhoun also shined after a week first half (only two points). He lead the Huskies with 24 points on the evening and was 3-for-6 from behind the arc. We knew he'd be a dangerous weapon in UConn's backcourt, but I don't think anyone expected him to be this dangerous.
  • On the other end of the freshman spectrum was Phil Nolan. Nolan definitely looked like a project in his nine minutes on the floor. He seemed uncomfortable and missed several "gimme" shots. He's still got plenty of potential to grow into his body, but for now it looks like UConn is going to really need Enosch Wolf to be some sort of steady inside presence.
  • R.J. Evans was hyped as bringing in senior leadership and that certainly looked like the case. He seemed to be a steadying factor and I look forward to seeing more of him.
  • It was kind of a quiet night for Shabazz Napier who had 11 points and six assists. He sat out for about five minutes in the second half with what looked like an injury to his side, but still led all Huskies with 32 minutes. It seems like UConn's best look might be a three-guard arrangement with Boatright at the 1, freeing up Napier and Calhoun for open looks.
  • Tyler Olander did well inside -- he grabbed nine boards -- but I was most impressed by his passing. Still, he seemed overwhelmed in the post defensively and it's going to be a stretch asking him to match up against centers in the Big East.
  • The defense was bad. Very, very bad. UConn's guards were beat off the dribble consistently and the lack of an interior presence was clearly noticeable. The Huskies also had a lot of trouble defending backdoor cuts and gave up more than a few easy points. If there is a bright side its that I thought the perimeter defense looked stronger than we're used to seeing.
Some final thoughts: this isn't a great team. I think we all knew that coming in, but if you had a crazy fantasy of a Big East run I wouldn't hold my breath. With that said there is a lot to like here. Calhoun is the real deal and RJ Evans adds extra depth and size. The run-and-gun style will suit this team well, but they're going to have to take better care of the ball (16 turnovers tonight). Maybe the biggest key for their success is what Enosch Wolf brings to the table. He doesn't have to be great, or even good really, but the Huskies are in painful need of a big man who can absorb space down low for 25 minutes and help to anchor the defense and shore up the rebounding. That might be a lot to ask from Wolf, but if he can be a steady presence it'll make the trio of standout guards all the more dangerous.