As the UConn Huskies (16-11, 9-6 AAC) careen towards the American Athletic Conference tournament, they look to build as much momentum as possible. Tonight was a step in the right direction with a 60-49 victory over East Carolina (12-16, 5-10 AAC). The win is their second in a row.
It was a big night for UConn's 7 foot center Amida Brimah. The sophomore captain has been coming on strong lately, putting up back to back 19 point games entering the evening. Tonight, he managed only 12 but his impact was tremendous. He was limited to just 18 minutes of action before fouling out, but when he was out there, the Huskies were dominant. Defensively, he made all the difference. He swatted away six shots and contested a host of others. When he was off the floor, ECU's guards and big men were able to get position inside and finish with ease. Whenever Brimah left the floor, UConn's defense devolved into madness. It has been the case all year, but tonight it was glaringly obvious. This is a radically different team without Brimah out there.
ECU's Marshall Guilmette and BJ Tyson reaped the benefits. They finished with 13 and 11 points respectively, leading the way for the Pirates. Guilmette did a nice job in the first half asserting his presence, but when Brimah returned in the second he was neutralized. Tyson, entered tonight averaging 16 points per game in February, was explosive in transition.
Once again, Daniel Hamilton was UConn's best all around player. The freshman finished with a career high 17 rebounds to go along with 9 points and 5 assists. He didn't look for his own shot much, but displayed enough aggression to get to the line and into the middle of the lane. Hamilton has been sensational, especially in the month of February. Expect him to win AAC Freshman of the Year.
For the second straight game, Ryan Boatright played all 40 minutes. He may not be perfect and he may not be Kemba Walker or Shabazz Napier, but Boatright is certainly a great Husky. He senses his career at UConn is coming to end and the way he's playing, he's making sure it is on his terms. He finished tonight with a game high 16 points. He knocked down 4 three pointers en route to the victory.
This was simply a game the Huskies had to have. The commentators on ESPN still held out hope that there was a chance UConn could get an at large bid, but that seems unlikely. UConn has a brutal stretch to close the season, home for SMU and Memphis, then at Temple. If Kevin Ollie's squad can manage to sweep the end of the year going into the conference tournament, it would bode well for their chances. Let's see how it plays out.