UConn still struggles to put teams away when they have them down big, but things continue to look up.
The Huskies improved to 11-7 and 4-2 in the American with a a 66-53 win over USF Sunday at the XL Center. UConn was up by 12 in the first half, but the Bulls stormed back early in the second half. After Kevin Ollie put him on the bench in the second half, Ryan Boatright scored 13 straight points to ignite the Huskies' revival.
Boatright finished with a career-high 28 points, moving past Kevin Freeman into 18th on the all-time scoring list, and Rodney Purvis scored 17 points off the bench in the win.
Tim Fontenault, Elan-Paolo DeCarlo and Matt Gionfriddo went back and forth on a quick wrap-up of Sunday's game and touched on Thursday's game at Cincinnati.
Tim Fontenault: It’s good to see UConn back on a winning streak, but it has been far from easy for the Huskies. You can’t let teams like UCF and USF hang around when you’ve got them on the ropes. UConn lets leads disappear faster than Hasheem Thabeet’s career. When you’ve got a team down by double digits, you have to – and Ryan Boatright has said it two games in a row – step on their necks. Bury them. UConn should be the best team in the American, but they let teams hang around thanks to stupid decision making. Go for the kill.
Anyway, Boatright looked incredible in the second half. Thirteen straight points in the second half to get UConn out of the jam. There have not been many times where Boatright has looked like the Kemba/Shabazz-esque point guard, but Sunday was fantastic.
Rodney Purvis was also solid Sunday. If he could hit more free throws (something he basically made fun of himself for afterward), he would have had a 20-point game. I love him off the bench, and he’s comfortable in that role. He is still getting his minutes and his production is up. Good to see.
Matt Gionfriddo: Ryan Boatright was spectacular today, literally not allowing us to lose. After we just kept having turnover after turnover, he decided to make every shot and every free throw. I know USF is not a great defensive team (or team for that matter), but it's nice to see him really step up on the offensive end after things got a little dicey in the second half. Boat doesn't need to get 28 every game, but just having a player who has the ability to step up and take over games is huge.
And then our defense continues to impress. The game should not have been close as it was at halftime, but due to all of the fouls, USF was able keep it close. In the first half, there was a stretch where they only hit two three-pointers during a really really long span. I don't think people realize at times that it is extremely difficult to keep playing as good of defense as we have when offense is not going smoothly. All season, we have been able to get stop after stop without scoring a bucket, and it is a huge reason why we have 11 wins.
Elan-Paolo DeCarlo: Tim, I like how you described Boat's will to win today. It's fair to extend that to the rest of the team. Against UCF and USF they've brought a ton of energy to the floor. This is a team that knows their back is to the wall and that they have to bring their A game every night in order to compete. Plays like Purvis' chase-down block, fighting for offensive rebounds and hustle plays. That's the stuff that decides games. UConn just wanted it more today. They grabbed 35 boards, 17 more than USF and willed themselves to the line where they shot a high percentage. It may be a stretch to call this team desperate, but they sure play that way.
Gionfriddo: Unfortunately, Omar did not play that well today, finishing with three points in 17 minutes, but on the other end of it, it was extremely nice to see Purvis really step into his role as the sixth man, giving us much needed scoring. Going forward to Cincinnati, hopefully we get the same scoring we have seen from either Purvis or Calhoun (or both!). It will most likely be an offensively challenged game with the Bearcats, so guys are going to need to continue to step up and hit shots for us.
Fontenault: In regards to Omar, it was a quiet game, yes. I do like the 3-pointer he hit, though. It gave UConn a much-needed momentum boost.
Transition game could be critical against Cincinnati. Elan and I ranted about this on the way back from the game. Daniel Hamilton loves to run the floor, and he said Thursday that he loves that Kevin Ollie lets him play his game. That's great, now play your game. When he gets the rebound, look to break out. I think he can easily beat anyone on the Bearcats down the floor.
Gionfriddo: Yes that's true, that three was big at the time.
I was actually just thinking about whether this could be a game that Hamilton really comes up big in the scoring column. Cincinnati is big and physical, so he should be able to get down the floor quickly and either score or get to the line. I also think his confidence has come back to what it was in the beginning of the year, and he looks comfortable again in half court sets. If he can get in double digits efficiently against Cincinnati, it's going to give us a huge boost.
DeCarlo: The problem with getting in transition against Cincy is that they're going to focus on taking that away. We all know the Bearcats are interested in turning every basketball game into a drag it out street fight. UConn should avoid that and continue with their trigger happy offense. Postgame, Rodney Purvis spoke about how fast the team and how important it is for the team to utilize that. It's such an advantage, especially against a slower team like Cincinnati.
Fontenault: It’s going to be ugly, no doubt about it. That is the way every UConn-Cincinnati game plays out.
No doubt Cincinnati will make it difficult to get out in transition, but if UConn can continue to shoot the ball effectively and lock down defensively, then naturally they have a chance.
That’s really what has gone wrong in the losses. The shots don’t fall and the other team can’t seem to miss. Luckily, Cincinnati and offense go together about as well as oil and water.