UConn is up 35-24 at the half against a UCF team that decided to wear the ugliest uniforms in Division 1 basketball history tonight.
Ball movement was great, they were playing with aggression and we actually dominated the rebounding battle! Amida Brimah had 5 attemps in his last eight games. After the first half today he has 10 points, 4 rebounds and 3 blocks. DeAndre Daniels contributed 8 points and 6 rebounds in the most complete first half we've seen the Huskies play in a long time.
This is the UConn team we thought we'd be seeing all year. Sure playing UCF helps, but Shabazz Napier has appeared more spry and nevertheless this is a refreshing development after the Huskies were unable to do the same against Houston.
Hopefully we see more of the same in the second half and keep morale high going into two huge games next week.
Central Florida Knights
KenPom: 145th Overall (140th Offense, 170th Defense)
Head Coach: Donnie Jones
2013-'14 Record: 9-4 (1-1 AAC)
UConn resumes conference play today against UCF at Gampel Pavilion. The Knights come into Connecticut with something the Huskies lack- a conference win. Kevin Ollie's team has a good chance to change that today after two unexpected losses to open conference play.
The Huskies (12-3) played their final non-conference game on Wednesday and scored a much needed win against a quality opponent, beating Harvard 61-56. Shabazz Napier led the team with 18 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists and Ryan Boatright had a pretty solid game as well with 14 points. The Huskies trailed at the first half even though Harvard was playing without their leading scorer Wesley Saunders. They rallied in the second half thanks to a great shooting effort and Shabazz Napier hitting two big threes at the end of a closely fought battle.
UConn could really use a solid win here- there are a number of reasons to be concerned after two losses and barely beating a team without it's best player. That is still a good Harvard team and I think the primary culprit has been that Shabazz Napier, the heart and soul of this team, hasn't been 100%. According to ADimeBack, his knee has been bothering him since the Stanford game:
"Napier’s knee has been bothering him since the Stanford game, swelling up and just generally causing him to be less Bazz-like. "Certain practices I’ll play through it, and then I’ll take the last 10 minutes off," he said. "I have this new routine I’m doing to make sure it heals up quicker, because I do play a lot of minutes, and that hinders it from getting healthy." Bazz was sporting a compression brace for the first time. "It actually felt great today," he said. "I’ll stick to the routine and hopefully be healthy by Sautrday."
Hopefully this has been the primary driver behind the long stretches of poor play that has been ailing the Huskies. With games against Memphis and Louisville up next, it is crucial for Shabazz to be as close to fully healthy as possible. But let's not sleep on today's opponent.
UCF comes in with nine wins highlighted by an early season victory at Miami. The last time they played UConn was in the 2011-'12 season at the Battle 4 Atlantis, a game that the Knights actually won. Michael Jordan's son, Marcus, led an impressive comeback- erasing a seventeen point deficit with 16 minutes left. God what a disappointing team we had that year...
This years team is led by a trio of Seniors. Isiah Sykes, Tristan Spurlock and point guard Calvin Newell are three of the teams highest scorers and Spurlock and Sykes are the teams top two rebounders. They don't have a true big man in the rotation so we aren't screwed on the match-up, but Spurlock and 6-foot-7 Sophomore forward Kasey Wilson are solid low post players. All four of the aforementioned players average double digit points, so we're looking at an experienced, balanced team that could be dangerous. Luckily they don't have a big man who can really hurt us.
Kevin Ollie has been playing around with a few different starters at Small Forward and Center, replacing Omar Calhoun with either Lasan Kromah or Niels Giffey and trying Tyler Olander and Amida Brimah at Center over Phil Nolan. I think Kromah has really earned the opportunity to keep starting so it'll be interesting to see who KO goes with today.
This is the Open Thread Husky fans. I'd love a nice, comfortable win to ease some of the concerns that have been causing me to re-think my expectations for this years team. Hopefully a healthy Shabazz Napier can make it happen.
Prediction: UConn wins 71-63
Next Three: at Memphis (1/16), vs. Louisville (1/18), vs. Temple (1/21)