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Men's Basketball Recap: UConn grinds down Bryant 66-53

The defending champs kick off their title defense with a victory at Gampel Pavilion

Jared Wickerham

The night began with a ring ceremony.

The coaching staff and returning players of the University of Connecticut were awarded their National Championship rings. Shabazz Napier's mom, introduced to a raucous cheer from the sellout crowd, accepted the ring on her son's behalf.

For a while, it looked like that would be the only reason to cheer.

But after a miserable shooting first half, UConn trailed 34-28.

Coach Kevin Ollie was aware of the trouble Bryant gave his team all evening.

"We stayed connected and together to win. The defense took over in the 2nd half because of our collective effort," he said. "Our struggles are going to be our power."

In the second half, the Huskies recovered their championship form.

At the heart of the charge was senior captain Ryan Boatright. Despite a rough first half, Boatright finished with 24 points, 8 rebound, 5 assists, 4 steals and one block. Altogether, it was the kind of superstar effort we can expect from Boat going forward.

"You look at box score and he stuffed it. Everything good on there. He's really developed into the leader of this team, and he played great tonight," said Ollie.

Boatright just made some sensational plays in the second half to get the Huskies going. From crossing people up to hitting threes to pinning shots against the backboard, Ryan Boatright was everywhere all at once.

Sophomore forward Kentan Facey played with high intensity all night, leading UConn with 11 rebounds. Facey, who played sparingly last season, was in the starting lineup and looks poised to have a big season.

"(The biggest difference with Facey) is that he's on the floor. He brought an energy that we needed. He was great," Ollie said.

UConn was shorthanded on the night. Junior guard Omar Calhoun and redshirt sophomore Rodney Purvis were both in street clothes. Calhoun is still rehabbing an MCL strain in his right knee, he remains day-to-day. Purvis was serving a one-game suspension due to an NCAA violation. Purvis will be fully eligible to play the remainder of the season.

Sophomore center Amida Brimah was able to put his influence on the game, despite playing just 28 minutes. He picked up his first foul at the 18:21 mark in the 1st half and was substituted out immediately. Brimah is an impact player, but only if he is on the floor. He needs to find a way to cut out silly fouls.

Now, when he is on the floor, Brimah is a certified monster. He finished with 12 points, 5 rebounds and 5 blocks. The points and rebounding totals aren't high, but the baskets he did score were massively important. He caught lobs for alley-oops, he converted put backs off offensive boards and fully played up to his 7'0 frame. Bryant simply had no means of defending him.

Brimah really stood out on the defensive end. He challenged every shot that was put up around the rim, blocking 5 and altering a half dozen others. He made Bryant drivers think twice before putting up a layup attempt.

Bryant head coach Tim O'Shea raved about Brimah following the game.

"The big fella was an intimidating factor. That was an elite defensive performance from UConn," he said.

With the victory, UConn improves to 26-0 in home openers at Gampel Pavilion. It wasn't the prettiest or most efficient game, but it got the job done.

As coach Ollie said, "We're grinders. That's all we know. Since coach (Calhoun) was here, last year, now. That's how we win."

The Huskies are headed on vacation next week. UConn will travel to Puerto Rico to participate in the Puerto Rick Tip Off tournament. They will face the College of Charleston on Thursday November 20th.