The first half of this game was a red herring. Cincinnati and Connecticut combined to score 64 points, in what was an offensive explosion for both sides. The final score was more appropriate given the way these two teams have played all year. In a battle of defensive powers, UConn did just a little bit more to come away with the victory, 62-56.
The Huskies were able to secure the win thanks to some timely scoring. The offense was not great, but when they needed to score, various players answered the call. Guards Ryan Boatright, Rodney Purvis and Omar Calhoun combined to score 26 of the 32 second half points. It was an impressive display from those three as UConn earned their second conference win of the season.
In particular, we need to discuss the growing legend of one Omar Calhoun. Coming off the bench, he notched 12 points in 19 minutes. It was the third time in his last five games that he scored in double figures. Calhoun, who missed UConn's first seven games with a knee injury, has given this team quite a spark these past few weeks. His ability to stretch the floor has been a godsend for a team that has struggled finding any shooting consistency. The more confident Calhoun gets in his knee, the greater his impact will be.
As for Purvis, well, it was a game of two halves. He was mostly invisible in the opening 20 minutes. I joked that Kevin Ollie needed to issue an Amber Alert for the Ferrari. But Purvis showed up in the second half. He drained a three to start the period and it was off from there. When Purvis scores in double figures, like he did today, UConn is 5-0. The Huskies are desperate for a consistent second option and Purvis is the best choice for the role. When he shows up to play, this team can make some noise.
Yet, the true engine of this team is team defense. When they put their effort in, the UConn Huskies are among the nation's elite on the defensive end. Led by Amida Brimah and Ryan Boatright, UConn's defense keyed the victory. Boatright finished with a team-high three steals, a team high. UConn forced 15 Cincy turnovers and blocked six Bearcat shots. Entering this game, KenPom's rankings pegged UConn at 18th in defensive efficiency. With a performance like this, the Huskies are sure to rise.
Cincinnati had many chances to win this game, but at the end of the day, they just did not have the offensive talent to get the job done. Entering, they did not have a single player averaging more than nine points per game. They got a strong outing from guard Troy Caupain, who finished with 14, but he simply had no support. The Bearcats offense struggled to generate open shots and finished with at least three shot clock violations. There was a possession late in the second half where Cincy missed a layup, grabbed the offensive rebound, missed the ensuing three point attempt, missed the tip in attempt, grabbed that offensive rebound, and missed another layup attempt. That level of offensive incompetence is laughable.
UConn's big men made life difficult for the Bearcats. Rakim Lubin got in on the action, logging 10 solid minutes, swatting 2 shots and providing some interior toughness. There was a stretch late in the second half where Lubin, Calhoun, Terrence Samuel, Kentan Facey and Boatright were the five on the floor. That lineup was surprisingly effective.
This was a statement victory for the Huskies. They are playing really solid ball right now, winning five of their last six games, the one loss coming in overtime against Temple. Today's win improves their record to 9-5, 2-1 in the American. With two road games coming up, taking care of business at home was imperative. UConn now heads to Tulsa, then Stanford riding a big wave, and appear poised to go on a big run. Coach Ollie has built himself a team of grinding defensive players that will fight tooth and nail until the end. Now, it's just a matter of putting the ball through the hoop enough times to come away with the win.