As always, it was difficult, it was gut-wrenching, but UConn came away with a vital 63-59 win at Florida Saturday afternoon.
Ryan Boatright, playing on a bad leg, led UConn with 14 points, but he was arguably overshadowed by Omar Calhoun, who scored 12 points on 5 of 8 shooting to help the Huskies mount a second-half comeback after the Gators jumped out to a 13-point lead early in the second half.
Tim Fontenault, Aman Kidwai, Elan-Paolo DeCarlo and Matt Gionfriddo took a couple hours to collect their thoughts before getting together to discuss what happened in Gainesville.
Seriously, what just happened?
Tim Fontenault: Wow, just wow. You will be hard pressed to find a singular regular season game over the last few (tournament eligible) years and say, "That was the one that changed the season." I think this could be that game. I think it was Seth Davis (I wasn’t paying attention to the talking heads) at halftime who said that only one of UConn and Florida will make the NCAA tournament. That made the next 20 minutes all the more tense. The Huskies, who pride themselves on that gritty, dirty, tenacious play we saw, finally did the exact thing I suggested in my column yesterday: they made some shots.
Say what you want about Florida’s record, that team entered the day ranked seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency in the KenPom rankings. Going down to the Swamp and beating the Gators for a third straight time, I didn’t think UConn could do that, especially with the way they have been shooting the ball. You have to give credit to guys like Rodney Purvis and Terrance Samuel, but above all, our favorite underdog Husky, OMAR!
Matt Gionfriddo: I'm still not sure how we won that game, but we did and that's all that matters. Our free throw shooting was reminiscent of last season (17-20), and Brimah was an absolute force on the defensive end, letting no one in the paint getting easy buckets. Add to that his rebounding and he had a very solid game despite only scoring three points.Florida played really really good defense against us, and without Boatright being 100 percent, it was pretty unclear of where our scoring was going to come from and then boom, Omar.
OMAR FREAKING CALHOUN! Dude comes in, plays 25 minutes, scores 12 points on 5 of 8 shooting and 2 of 4 from three. Just unbelievable. You could tell his confidence was through the roof and that he knew he was going to need to step up in order for us to win and man did he ever. I am so proud of him and I am so proud of this team. LET'S GO!
Fontenault: I know Aman and Elan will want to get their thoughts in, but I need to keep talking Omar, because I’ve never stopped believing in the guy.
He’s been hurt for the better part of two years. People have wondered when he was going to transfer. They’ve called him a useless waste of space. But his teammates never stopped believing in him and neither did a small group of us who will never forget what Omar Calhoun did for this program his freshman year. Yes, that season was highlighted by Shabazz Napier and Boatright, but whenever I think of the Syracuse game, the first thing I think of, before Napier’s steal on Carter-Williams, or Boatright’s buzzer beater at the half or the alley-oop to Niels Giffey, I think of Omar spotting up in the corner. When he’s healthy, when he’s confident, he’s as good as anybody. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he does the rest of the way.
Gionfriddo: Yeah I can't resist either haha so I'll stop after this
I'm with you 100 percent, Tim. I wasn't sure what type of player he was in his freshman season, and he had a kind of weird looking shot, so I wasn't completely sold on him at first. But, then throughout the entire year he just played so tough and he was a guy you could rely on by the end of the season, and I just fell in love with him (as a player). Obviously, last season was tough, and I remember in the Florida game, in particular, that he did not play well and people in the student section were saying that he was terrible and I got really mad at said people. But, now he looks healthy and great and I really think he can become a scoring option in games this season.
Elan-Paolo DeCarlo: We all love Omar Calhoun, that's for sure. Just following along on Twitter while watching the game, every time he does something, my timeline exploded. Viva Omar.
Other than him, we have to talk about Rodney Purvis. Personally, I'm a huge fan of when he takes and makes three pointers. I really like when that happens. In the second half, he knocked down three threes, all of which were huge in the comeback. With the way Ryan Boatright struggled, getting production out of Purvis was necessary for UConn to pull this one out. Great bounce back game from him.
Also, let's talk defense. We saw the good Brimah today. He was the anchor out there, challenging everything he could reach and making life miserable for any and all Florida penetrators. It was great to see him active on the glass as well, coming down with 10 boards. Just a big time effort from him.
Aman Kidwai: UConn's second half showcased everything that this team can be when our non-Boatright players tap into their immense talents. Amida Brimah, Rodney Purvis and Omar Calhoun were the catalysts for the win, something we haven't been able to say yet.
I know this isn't a great Florida team, but it's an important win for a number of reasons. Non-conference road wins look good on the tourney resume, even if it is a down year for the Gators. We need to pray they can improve their RPI, which is currently outside of the Top 100. In KenPom and BPI they rate quite well, this loss dropped them to No. 25 in KenPom and they sit at 40 on ESPN's BPI so hopefully they can right the ship across conference play. Sound familiar?
For UConn to come back and win after being down double digits in the second half is huge. Besides Boatright it's a bunch of freshman and sophomores- this is good for the players' confidence and testament to their resolve. I don't think the season is as off-course as people have been led to think because of the AP rankings and schedule watchers - injuries and buzzer beaters have robbed us of 3-4 wins - hopefully we can continue to count on Purvis and/or Calhoun to play like this more consistently across the season.
Gionfriddo: Yeah I mean we won with our best player going 2 of 11 from the field which really speaks volume to how much of a team win it was. When Purvis can hit three-pointers, it makes him a completely different player. Defenses will have to respect his range, allowing him to use shot fakes in order to get into the lane and do what he does best, driving to the hoop. So, yeah, keep hitting threes Rodney, that would be nice.
Also, Terrance Samuel played a fantastic game. Defensively, he was great, and offensively he did his job. Once he came into game, he was extremely aggressive and ended up getting to the line six times throughout the game, making all six. He was one of four players who finished with 10 points, and all four were guards. Someone besides Ryan Boatright finally stepped up in the backcourt and it was great to watch. If guys can step up like this and our defense can play the way it's been playing all season, there is a lot of potential with this team.
Kidwai: I'm all in for talking about Omar. He scored 11 two games ago against CCSU, had seven points against Temple and dropped 12 in a season-high 25 minutes. This is only his fifth game of the season, if he can keep this up we are a dangerous team. We have USF on Tuesday and then a big Cincinnati game in a week. That should be a good one.
Fontenault: The USF game is going to be an important one. First of all, how will UConn respond after a big road win, the biggest win of the season? Second, it is South Florida. I say that and it sounds funny, because South Florida is terrible. They got absolutely rolled by SMU in their conference opener and are a terrible basketball team in general. That is doubly true this year, with only three players sticking around for the post-Stan Heath era. But this is a road game at USF. Since the Bulls’ move to the Big East (in the before time, in the long-long ago before the AAC), UConn is 3-2 in Tampa, never winning by more than five points, and one of those wins was in overtime. The Bulls always play UConn close so they have to be careful.
Is it weird that I’m still a little worried about Daniel Hamilton? He wasn’t really part of that comeback offensively, scoring only two points in the second half, and in the first half, he looked like the same Hamilton that showed up against Duke, the one who was afraid to take the deep shots. That can’t be a trend going forward.
DeCarlo: Important note. Daniel Hamilton is 19 years old. He's probably in his own head about the end of the Temple game, so I'm not surprised by his passivity today. He hasn't been consistent game to game all year, so I'm not really worried. He'll bounce back. Perhaps a game with limited minutes will help? Or just let him ride it out? Hamilton is tremendously talented but getting through this patch will take some work.
Kidwai: It was interesting to see Amida Brimah come out looking completely different in the second half. He's disappeared at times, but when he is feeling it he is an absolute force of nature. In fact, I thought UConn's defense as a whole looked a lot tighter in the second half. Did you guys notice that?
Gionfriddo: I think it is fair to be somewhat concerned about Hamilton but at the end of the day, he has only played 12 games of Division I basketball. He has shown the ability to score in a variety of ways, but I do think there will be some games where he gets frustrated early, and may not be mature enough to handle the adversity. With that being said, if other guys can step on this team, and he can have a bit of a reduced role as our third or fourth scorer, then I think that could really benefit him. I understand the concern, but I don't think it's anything to be too worried about.
Kidwai: I'm not worried about Hamilton either, he has shown us a lot this season and is just going through a rough stretch. Like all good UConn teams, this will be one where different players step up in order for us to win games. Last year Lasan Kromah, Niels Giffey and DeAndre Daniels contributed above and beyond to lead the Huskies to victory. But those guys are gone and the new guys are learning to do the same. We have and will continue to win games because of DHam. I'm not worried at all.
Fontenault: We do have to keep that in mind that Hamilton is still just a kid. Every 19-20 year old has to go through the ringer, no matter what it is they are doing. Hamilton is going to be a great basketball player. Fran Dunphy barely said five words at his post-game presser the other day before jumping to that point. I’m anxious to see what he can do if he can put together a consistent stretch.
As to your point, Aman, I agree. I think that Brimah looked much better in the second half, as did the entire team. Florida scored at will in the first half (I think it was Kasey Hill who drained a shot from about six feet behind the 3-point line). UConn settled down and played Kevin Ollie defense in the second half. That was a welcomed sight and changed the game.
Gionfriddo: Brimah wasn't much of a factor at all on the offensive end, but his ability to challenge shots at the rim is like few in the country. When he protects the rim like that, it makes defense a little easier for our guards, allowing them to gamble more.
Fontenault: I can live with Brimah not playing much of a role on the offensive end, especially with Kentan Facey playing the way he has. UConn had to go small last year to get scorers out there, but with Facey stepping up, they can have length and offense both.
Just as long as Brimah continues to be a defensive force. It’s going to be necessary. We have discussed the outlook in the American in recent discussions. Memphis, Cincinnati, Temple and SMU are all going to be tough to beat, and judging by the early games, the rest of the conference will refuse to be pushovers. Brimah’s ability to block shots could knock them down a peg.
Gionfriddo: Also, Tulane just won at Memphis so watch out for them. They have three scoring guards that have been really good so far this season. Anyways, back to UConn, it was the first time this season we took advantage of our quality defense in a close game and it was nice to see that we could actually do that. There was a point in the 2nd half where it seemed like we had no business winning and we ended up doing so anyways. A super super gutsy performance led by our leader Ryan Boatright. What a warrior, playing 39 minutes while hurt. Can't say enough about him.
Kidwai: I don't know if it's appropriate to call this a turning point. First, we weren't that bad of a team going into this- buzzer beaters and injuries have robbed us of three to four wins. It sucks not to be ranked, but the AP/Coaches Poll rankings are stupid. Better measures such as RPI, BPI and KenPom seemed to agree that UConn is better than the 6-5 record going into today. If we lost I could see us justifying it because Boat wasn't 100 percent.
Yes, we have those five losses and nothing will change that, but I never stopped believing this was an NCAA tournament team... until today when it looked like we might lose by double digits... okay maybe this is a turning point from the team after having to resuscitate their post-season hopes. Go Huskies!
DeCarlo: At the end of the day, it was a great team win. In a season where opportunities have slipped away, for UConn to go on the road and take care of business was huge. This could be the point we look back at as when the huskies rounded into form.
Gionfriddo: I'm just so happy.
Fontenault: Charles Okwandu loves this team.