It wasn't pretty, but the job was done. For the 14th time this season, UConn (13-9, 6-4 AAC) trailed after the first half. These Huskies do not make it easy for themselves, but it is a resilient bunch.For the fifth time, they came back to get the victory.
Tulane (13-10, 4-7 AAC) held a 44-39 lead with 6:40 left to play. A loss tonight would have sealed UConn's fate as a team NEEDING to win the AAC Tournament to clinch a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Instead of rolling over, the Huskies fought back. Going on a 16-2 run, UConn took control and never looked back.
Ryan Boatright continued his sharp shooting, finishing with 18 points, five assists and nine rebounds. Boat once again was the catalyst for this team, but a key factor in tonight's outcome was the supporting cast. Rodney Purvis broke out with 17 points on just 12 shots, including a two back breaking threes in UConn's run to the lead. The Huskies are a different team when they get a second scorer going alongside Boat. Whether it's Purvis or Daniel Hamilton/Omar Calhoun, someone needs to step up. Tonight, the Ferrari got his engine revved up in a big way.
Despite the Huskies' comeback, there tendency to start slow has been a persistent problem. To trail at the half 14 times in 22 games is a disturbing trend. Following the East Carolina game, coach Kevin Ollie discussed how this wasn't a problem, as long as the team finished strong. Well, I disagree with Ollie on this point. Coming back is difficult. Nine times the Huskies failed to do it when trailing at the half. It's too large a mountain to climb, especially with such an inconsistent team. Something has to give. This team needs to find a way to start faster out of the gate to give themselves a fighting chance.
The Huskies were able to stabilize once they started taking care of the ball. They committed just three 2nd half turnovers, compared to 11 in the first half. When UConn was able to complete a possession, it usually ended with a basket. The Huksies were 22-44 from the field and 14-19 from the foul line. When shooting that well, a win should be all but guaranteed. UConn's sloppiness with the ball made this game more competitive than it needed to be.
Defensively, the Huskies got a dynamic performance from sophomore center Amida Brimah. When he plays like this, it is easy to say he is one of the nation's top defenders. He finished with eight blocks, a career high. He has 18 blocks in his last five games. His presence on the back line, defending the rim, challenged each and every Tulane attack. He was the backbone in holding the Green Wave to just 8-28 shooting in the second half. No Tulane player hit more than four field goals, Louis Dabney led them with 14 points.
At 13-9 with eight games to play, the Huskies have their backs against the wall. It's win now all the time. These last two games, against East Carolina and Tulane, have seen UConn get tough in the second half. If they want to extend their season late into March, it will take more efforts like this. UConn is next in action against the AAC's undefeated leader Tulsa on February 12th at the XL Center (boo all games at Gampel). It will be a major test. If the Huskies can knock them off, it will be a major resume booster. Let's get it.