For having a lengthy layoff due to finals, UConn shook off the rust and came out with the best team win of the young season. They did it on the strength of their much maligned frontcourt. Oriakhi, Drummond, and Olander combined for 45 points, 17 rebounds, and 7 blocks. While this isn’t Big East talent that the frontcourt played against, it was the first time that all three players played well in one game and it is a great confidence builder going forward. The defense took awhile to find its legs, letting some early open looks for Holy Cross shooters, but once they settled down they used their quickness and length to bother shots and get into passing lanes for steals that fueled the transition game. The offense was firing on all cylinders, shooting 50% for the entire game and they were passing the ball much better and not relying on one-on-one plays.
The rust garnered by the long lay-off was evident early on for Jeremy Lamb. He had a couple of bad misses and a travel early on. He did have a several steals that led to easy points, had two three pointers, and battled hard on the boards which was a pleasant surprise. The thing about Lamb is that he never forces anything but instead he did the little things to help his team with the victory.
This was the best point guard game of Shabazz Napier’s career. Instead of looking for his shot, he concentrated on distributing the ball, 13 assists, and did it in total control, only 3 turnovers. It is good to see that he can play this type of game as well as his scoring point guard role. His passing was crisp and he was getting into the lanes and creating easy scoring opportunities for the big men. While there will be times when the team will need him to score twenty points, to show that he can be the facilitator is a huge step.
It was refreshing to see Oriakhi come right out of the gates and be aggressive and effective with several dunks and put-backs early on. He carried that over into the second half with two slams and a lay-up. If there is one thing to nit-pick about his day was that he is still tipping the ball around on rebounds and not going up strong for the boards. But beyond that this was a great performance from him and this team needs Alex to lead the young frontcourt.
Drummond was an absolute beast. He showed athletic slams, monster blocks, a fade away jumper, the ability to pull down boards in traffic, and most importantly knock down free throws. This was the coming out party that UConn Nation was waiting on. He is getting more confident in each and every outing and it is showing on both ends of the court.
It is amazing how the tempo of the game changes when Calhoun inserts Boatright into the game. It seems like each and every game Ryan puts his stamp on it. He did it in the second half where he scored on two dunks. He creates havoc on the court. Allen got into the game late and wanted badly to score, jacking up three 3-pointers but missed them all. Kyle Bailey also got some minutes and found himself a rebound. P.J. Cochrane played 2 minutes.
Olander had a solid game and is becoming a fantastic passer in the high low set. He also is playing well with his back to the basket. Daniels had a hard time finding minutes in the past couple of games but didn’t get himself down. He came out and had a solid game. He had a nice reverse, 15-footer, and worked hard on the boards with 6 rebounds. If he can contribute on the boards, he will be hard to take out of the lineup. Smith’s day mirrored that of Daniels. He did a little of everything from rebounding to playing solid defense. He also had back-to-back lay-ups. Giffey on played 6 minutes and was the odd man out. He had a dunk & one, but needs to contribute on the boards to keep up with what Smith and Daniels bring to the table.
It was a total team effort which is something this team hasn’t been able to do. It is a great sign especially the 23 assists on 68 field goals and only 7 turnovers. If they can hover around those numbers than this team can compete with anyone in the country. They have the talent and if they can meld that into a cohesive unit then watch out. The question is if they can do this against comparable talent, because so far this team has been playing against sub-par to par talent and while that will buy you time to get you prepared, it isn’t close to what they will face in adversity of an on the road Big East team. Hopefully they can build on this performance and carry it over into the next and not make this game an anomaly.