In horse racing, there's a fairly common trick used to build up the confidence of a stud thoroughbred that's believed to have the skills to win some big races.
The trick is to essentially put them on the track with an inferior horse and let them get used to winning. As the bigger, stronger horse flies by his no-match opponent, he begins to feel better about himself and his chances.
I don't know if this is done anymore- I don't exactly follow horse racing, except to consistently pick a few losers before the Kentucky Derby- but you get the point.
To build confidence, you have to win a few ... and win easy.
Enter Temple University, UConn's sacrificial horse that was brought out to the track last night in Hartford and beaten like Secretariat walloping some broken-down pony.
This was the game UConn needed. They needed a laugher. They needed a game where (almost) everything went right. They needed 40 minutes of consistent effort that turned into consistent results.
They got that.
Last night against Temple didn't erase what happened Saturday night against Louisville. That game stung because it was at Gampel, a place at which UConn usually feels invincible, and against a top-tier opponent. The fact that it's a soon-to-be former Big East rival (well, technically they already are a former Big East rival, but you get the idea) that's jumping over the injured body of the Huskies to get into the ACC at the end of the year made the sting of that loss even more painful.
Beating up on Temple doesn't change that. And, you can make the case that UConn didn't prove anything by smacking around a Temple squad that is winless in conference play so far. Everything seemingly conspired against the Owls coming into the season, as they jumped from the A-10 into the better, at least at the top, American at a time when they were losing most of their top players to graduation and going through an obvious transitional year. This is not the Owls team you expect to see, and probably not indicative of where they'll be in another year or two.
Right now, though, they are bad.
Yet, despite that, Temple hasn't exactly been embarrassed on the court this season. As was pointed out during the telecast, the Owls had managed to stay close to better teams, with most of their losses coming by single-digit margins.
So it wouldn't have been shocking to see the Huskies in a fight in the second half. I mean, with some notable exceptions, they've pretty much played up or down to their opponent's level this season.
Last night, though, there was no let up.
UConn got scoring from eight different guys, shot 12-23 from three, and 53.4 percent from the floor overall. They also dominated the glass, out rebounding Temple by a +20 margin (45-25). Off that Louisville game, there were two ways this team could have gone: dejected and upset by a tough loss or angry and ready to prove a point. They chose the latter.
The player of the game was undoubtedly DeAndre Daniels. He only outscored Shabazz Napier by four points (31 to 27) but it was his aggressiveness both inside and outside that separated him from the pack. He grabbed 12 rebounds, played good defense, and took what Temple gave him. If they put a big defender on him, he drove around. Smaller defender? Shot over him or pushed him deep in the paint for a score or a foul.
This is the point where I am legally obligated to remind everyone that DEANDRE DANIELS SHOULD BE DOING THIS EVERY GAME. He might be the biggest X factor in the entire conference. When Daniels plays like he realizes his own talent, there are few who can matchup against him defensively. That doesn't happen all the time, however. Like, how it didn't happen against Louisville ... at all.
Napier was, well, Napier. He scored 27, was crisp for the most part with his passes, and kept the team from having any real lapses. There was an ease to his game against Temple that was pretty impressive. It looked like a quarterback executing his coaches game plan perfectly. No stress. No rush. Take the ball and run the offense.
All of this came on a night when Ryan Boatright was out of the lineup. The shooting guard was back home mourning the loss of his cousin who was shot and killed in Chicago last week. From a team perspective, it was good to see them pick up the slack and play well even without one of their better playmakers. It also showed that Boatright's erratic play can really impact his teammates in a negative way, as they team seemed a lot less frenetic last night and kept the turnovers to a minimum, unless your name was Lasan Kromah who had just a very shaky game.
The big guys were once agains non-factors as Amida Brimah, Phil Nolan, and Tyler Olander took turns doing nothing. Brimah continues to be UConn's best option inside, but for those of us thought the big man had found some mojo after the UCF game, reality has once again come crashing down around us.
Yet, even without one of their "big men" doing the job, UConn hit the boards and used their athleticism to simply out-jump and out-fight Temple for the ball. Again, by law, I must say the following: THEY SHOULD BE DOING THIS EVERY GAME. Of course not every team is going to allow the Huskies such an easy pass to the boards as did Temple, but effort should always be there.
There's no excuse for standing around.
But those are arguments for another time. On Tuesday night, UConn helped push aside a bad loss and replaced it with a superlative effort.
Sure, the team they played is lousy, but you know what good teams do to lousy ones? Pound them. That's what the Huskies did.
Next up are Rutgers and Houston. If UConn brings it like they did against the Owls, they should be walking into their matchup against the Bearcats with 17 wins.
Can't have any letdowns at this point in the season. We're almost in February and we all know what month follows.