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The Open Thread: UConn vs No. 2 Duke, 8pm on ESPN, IZOD Center

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The two perennial powers renew their rivalry at the Izod Center

Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports


Duke leads 30-25.

There was a lot that went wrong for the Huskies in the first half. Brimah picked up a foul and came out in the first 12 seconds, then picked up a second moments after he returned. He only played 3 minutes. Kentan Facey picked up 2 early fouls, and Phil Nolan picked up 3. Duke's Jahlil Okafor was a beast down low, drawing double teams and looking comfortable. UConn's offense sputtered. They shot 1-5 from the line and couldn't get any penetration out of half court sets. The outside shooting, 0-5 from three, was awful. Turnovers and fouls did the Huskies in. They committed 9 TOs, several being travels by Terrence Samuel and Rodney Purvis. The fouls were excruciating, and Duke was able to turn their opportunities into 11/15 from the line.

Yet, the game is being played at UConn's tempo. The defense, held together with spit and glue without Brimah, has slowed down Duke's transition game. Nolan drew 3 charges, to the surprise of no one. Rakim Lubin proved useful in the paint, and Ryan Boatright, that wonderful pest, did Ryan Boatright things. He picked pockets, he created havoc and got out in transition for easy buckets.

Okafor has been as good as advertised. He's threatening to foul out the entirety of UConn's front line by himself. His 4 offensive rebounds have been huge in keeping Duke in front. Amile Jefferson and Tyus Jones paced the Blue Devils with 10 points a piece, while Ryan Boatright led the Huskies with 9. Rodney Purvis looked comfortable attacking, finishing with 6 of his own.

This has been UConn's best effort of the season. Despite the foul trouble and shooting woes, they are locked in. They came out swinging tonight and it's good to see. If they can stay sharp and error free on defense and just find a way to sink some threes, hello Omar Calhoun, then they can steal this ball game. It's sitting right there for them.

Alright folks, here it is. This was the game everyone circled when the schedule came out. The Huskies and the Blue Devils, the country's two most successful programs over the last generation. Each has captured 4 NCAA titles and their previous clashes have grown in stature.

This time around, it's Duke that enters as the overwhelming favorite. Sitting at 9-0, ranked #2 in the polls, Mike Krzyzewski's squad is a force. Led by dynamic freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, the Blue Devils have all the makings of a national championship contender.

The defending champion Huskies have struggled to live up to expectations. At 4-3, with tough last second losses to Texas and Yale, the Huskies find themselves looking for a marquee victory. It's hard to pinpoint the exact areas where UConn has struggled, because at times, all their stars have shined. They just haven't been able to put it all together.

For UConn to win tonight, it needs to be an all hands on deck approach. Expect the usual performance from Ryan Boatright. He's proven in the past that he's to be relied on in big games. The key factors will be Amida BrimahDaniel Hamilton and Rodney Purvis. Brimah is coming off a career night against Coppin State. He'll find dealing with Okafor and Plumlee a much harder task. He needs to bring toughness and physical intensity to make an impact. Hamilton, UConn's star-in-the-making, has all the tools to be a fantastic player. He's shown the ability to penetrate, shoot the deep ball, pass, rebound and defend. Tonight would be the optimal time to display the total package. As for Purvis, the transfer from North Carolina State has a history against the Blue Devils. Purvis has had a tough start to the year. He injured his ankle against West Virginia, just one game after his breakout performance in the Puerto Rico Tip Off. Hopefully, Purvis can exact some revenge on his former rivals.

There was a big time energy at Gampel Pavilion for the Texas game. This is different. UConn and Duke are the bluest of blue bloods in college basketball. The history between these two is palpable. Coach K and Jim Calhoun, Christian Laettner and Emeka Okafor, Shane Battier and Rip Hamilton. Let's get going.

Follow me on Twitter @ElanDeCarlo and check back here at halftime and right after the whistle for updates.

Keys to the Game: by mattwemett

Tonight, UConn battles #2 Duke at the Izod Center in the latest chapter of a storied rivalry. The Devils in Blue hold a slight 5-4 series edge although UConn's victories have come on a much bigger stage (1999 Championship/ 2004 Final Four). Duke, featuring likely 2015 #1 overall pick Jahlil Okafor, enters tonight's match-up at 9-0, having won all nine games by double digits. UConn, at 4-3, comes off a blowout win over Coppin State where sophomore center Amida Brimah exploded for 40 points and 12 rebounds. Thoughts on what UConn needs to do to compete:

First, set your timer to 4:54 and hit start...

Build off Coppin State

Coppin State was a step in the right direction for the Huskies. UConn made it a priority to get the ball inside and it paid dividends with Brimah/Facey combining for 65/106 points (who suggested that). Through getting the bigs involved we relied less on the three ball and more on the free throw (18 3PA vs 33 FTA). Duke is known for great team defense and will pack it in when we drive- leaving the three open. WE MUST NOT SETTLE FOR 3'S. We don't have the shooters to beat Duke on the outside and must continue to move the ball until we find an opening to attack (see pick and roll below).

Another thing to look for is how Boatright reacts to the defense collapsing. Will he force shots like he has done in the past? Or, will he play like a true point guard and move the ball around, making the defense rotate?

Brimah and Boatright

Brimah will have his hands full tonight against freshman big man Jahlil Okafor (18 points/9 rebounds on the year). Depending on the flow of the game, we may need to double Okafor at times to prevent Brimah from getting in foul trouble. Another way we can take heat off Brimah is by limiting entry passes. If our pesky guards can put pressure on Duke up front, that will severely limit their ability to find Okafor down low.

Offensively, Brimah does not need to score for us to win. Although I predicted tonight to be his breakout game, realistically we need Brimah to defend, box out and run the floor making Okafor work in transition. However, Brimah scoring is a good sign for us because much of his offense is created for him (think Hamilton/Boatright lobs). If Brimah/Facey are scoring that means our guards are penetrating and dishing which will free up the outside shot.

The pick and roll will be huge for us tonight as we do not have a big man who can challenge Okafor one-on-one. The bigs need to set solid screens and make Okafor defend the pick and roll. We have the athletic guards to challenge Okafor at the rim and get him in foul trouble (see X-factor). If Okafor picks up a quick 2, tonight becomes a whole different game. Looking back at Duke's closest game against Wisconsin, Okafor battled foul trouble and put up a human 13/6. We can live with that. The 25/20 he put up in his most recent game against Elon? That will hurt us. Our guards need to attack the rim off the pick and roll and put Okafor in a position where he cannot beat us- the bench.


Rodney Purvis. I am so tired of the "Ferrari out of the garage" reference because you know what- he is still in the garage. I have yet to see Purvis attack the defense - either in transition or half court- the way he did at NC State. Every UConn star has their coming out party on a big stage- what bigger stage than UConn-Duke? If Purvis can get out and make some plays in transition he will ignite the pro-UConn crowd in the building, creating a Garden-esque atmosphere a la last March.

Has your timer gone off yet? If it has, that is the amount of time Duke has trailed all season. 4 minutes and 54 seconds. Yes, we started moving in the right direction against Coppin State but if it doesn't work against Duke tonight, don't panic, right now they may just be the better team. However, that's not to say we won't be the better team when it counts.

For good measure let's end with One Shining Moment from 1999:

As always,


PS: Thanks to Pat/Katy Lenehan for the tickets!