UConn is back above .500 after an 80-65 win over Columbia at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport Monday night. The Huskies looked good offensively, shooting 57.1 percent from the field with four players in double figures. Defensively, UConn finally settled in in the second half, holding the Lions to 10 of 30 shooting in the final 20 minutes.
Keeping with what we hope to make a postgame tradition on The UConn Blog, Tim Fontenault and Elan-Paolo DeCarlo took some time to exchange their thoughts about the game.
Tim Fontenault: It was nice to see everything come together for UConn last night. That was never going to be an easy, straightforward game. Columbia is a talented team in a tough Ivy League and gave Kentucky everything it could handle a few weeks ago. Other than letting Maodo Lo do what he wanted, the defense looked pretty good, but the offense coming to life was the most important takeaway from last night. It is amazing what will happen when players have the confidence to take and make shots.
Obviously, this leads me to Rodney Purvis. How about that guy’s performance last night? He went 7-for-8 from the field, 4-for-5 from deep, and matched his career high with 21 points. After the game, Purvis was the happiest I’ve ever seen him. I started asking him if he was upset that this performance comes right before Christmas break. With a smile on his face, he cut me off to assure me that he would be in the gym when he got back to Raleigh Tuesday.
The Ferrari seems to be warmed up and ready to hit the highway.
Elan-Paolo DeCarlo: Rodney, Rodney, Rodney. Good to see you again. Is this the guy we were all expecting in the preseason? Can he maintain this level? It was a great performance from Purvis, for sure. But shooting 7 of 8, 4 of 5 from 3-point range is not something we can reasonably expect. Those numbers will fall, but the important thing that needs to stay is the confidence. Purvis was shooting the ball with an expectation that it was going in. Ryan Boatright has mentioned throughout the season that his teammates need to be more aggressive with their shot attempts, and against Columbia, they gave it. Between Purvis' five attempts and Daniel Hamilton's five threes, the offense looked more fluid and it was executed at a higher level. UConn may have stumbled onto a solid offense, built around a drive and kick system. But it is all reliant on the wing player's ability to catch and shoot.
Going forward, UConn certainly has the pieces to build an efficient offense. Now, it's a matter of executing on a consistent basis.
Fontenault: Agreed. We can’t expect 20 points every night, but if he can keep shooting with confidence, it should ease the pressure on Boatright to produce his ridiculous numbers every night. It was also nice to see Daniel Hamilton start hitting shots once Kevin Ollie told him he was going to go "Crenshaw" on him if he kept passing up chances. We’ve seen what Hamilton can do when he has confidence in his offensive game. Down the stretch, it looked automatic.
DeCarlo: There's a superstar lurking inside Daniel Hamilton. Every night we see a new side of him on the floor. Against Columbia we got to see him deal with adversity. His shot wasn't falling but he found ways to contribute. His passing was superb, and when Ollie put him at the four, the game turned. Ollie said, "with Daniel at the four, we were able to spread the floor...it broke their backs."
With Hamilton, it's a mater of repetition and confidence. Remember, he's just a freshman. He already has a developed court sense and has a grown man's body. He has all the potential in the world. Last night, we got another glimpse.
Fontenault: I’ve always said that you will never hear the words "UConn junior forward Daniel Hamilton." I think he’s going to be an incredible player. Step one is developing consistency, and I think both he and Purvis laid the foundation yesterday.
A player who kind of concerned me is Amida Brimah. He eventually got his fill offensively, thanks in part to Hamilton, but I think he often looked to be in slow motion on the defensive end. It didn’t help that Kyle Smith’s offense at Columbia brings the big man out to the top of the key a lot, but there were some times I think Brimah got beat that were completely inexcusable.
DeCarlo: I'm glad you brought up Brimah. It's clear what he is; a shot-blocking, alley-oop machine. That's about it. For a seven footer, he's a terrible rebounder. His value on the defensive end his vastly overrated, he's a great at getting weak side blocks but that's it. He was beaten a few times one-on-one in the post and Columbia smartly drew him away from the rim to free up cutters. Whether it's a talent or experience issue, Brimah still has plenty to learn on the defensive end. It would be a mistake to see him declare for the 2015 draft.
What did you think of the Ollie's bench guard rotation? It seems like he's giving up on Sam Cassell Jr., especially now that Omar Calhoun is available. Calhoun hit his first jumper, but couldn't stay hot. Cassell has struggled to produce so far and he's shooting with no confidence. As for Terrence Samuel, what a job last night. Playing 20-plus minutes on a bad ankle, hounding on defense, attacking the rim. He even hit a few jumpers, a Christmas miracle.
Side note: I enjoyed the Rakim Lubin, Brimah, Samuel, Cassell, Calhoun lineup. Just so strange to see.
Fontenault: Samuel, to me, was one of the three best players in that game for UConn, along with Boatright and Purvis. What a performance by him. That was the kind of game that made him such a contributor during the national championship run last year. I just love that style of basketball he plays, acting as – like Ollie said – a facilitator for the scoring guards. He reminds me of Rashamel Jones, who was the seventh or eighth guy off the bench during his senior year in 1998-99, but he gave UConn good minutes, and he facilitated the play for guys like Richard Hamilton and Ricky Moore.
The most impressive thing about Samuel Monday night was that he was basically a game-time decision. The way he played, I figured he had to know the night before that he was cleared, but he told me that wasn’t the case. He said that as early as that morning, he had no idea if he would be able to go and he gave 24 fantastic minutes. That’s the kind of thing that has to make you feel confident in UConn going forward.
As for Cassell, I agree with you. I think now that Calhoun is back, Cassell’s minutes are going to drop significantly, making it even more difficult for him to get out of this rut he’s been in all year. Calhoun is going to find his form. It was a matter of rotten luck that he wasn’t on the floor to start the season. I think he will find his shooting form, and that will put Cassell in a tough spot.
DeCarlo: This was a good game for UConn. Columbia came to fight But UConn pushed right back. It was the type of performance you can see them building off of. With conference play right around the corner, it's good to see the Huskies pick up some momentum.
Anyway, thanks for reading guys. Have a happy holiday from the UConn Blog!