Thursday, December 29, 2011
UConn wasn’t heading into Big East play with a lot of confidence, letting leads slip against inferior teams at home. They had a tough road test against a pesky and big USF team to open Big East play and they started out on the wrong foot. Blaney didn’t give the starting line-up on time and was given a technical foul before they even tipped off and the sloppy play continued from there. They turned the ball over on four consecutive plays trips, couldn't find any rhythm in the halfcourt sets and USF began to drain the outside shot. But UConn stayed the course and climbed back into the game with some tough nosed defense which fueled their offense. They carried the defense into the second half, protected the perimeter that has caused them so much trouble, held Gilchrist in check, and limited easy fast break points. The backcourt took over offensively down the stretch making jumpers and the frontcourt began winning the rebounding battle. They held on down the stretch, making just enough free throws to keep USF at arms length and earning them a much needed confidence builder of a road Big East game.
It took awhile for Lamb to get going, hitting a left handed lay-up which led to an off-balanced jumper and an offensive rebound & put-back & 1 in the first half, but it was in the second half that Lamb took over and pushed UConn ahead for good with back-to-back-to-back jumpers. From there he had a wild circus bank shot, a fade away jumper, and made his free throws down the stretch. He did have a horrible foul late in the game, fouling a three point shooter, but other than that and a few turnovers, Lamb had a fantastic game.
Napier cooled down a bit from his torrid pace had has set in the past three games. He had problems handling the basketball, getting stripped and reaching in on defense for needless fouls. He had a 3-pointer mid-way through the first half, but other than a free throw, he didn’t contribute that much offensively. Boatright got off to a fast start, hitting two jumpers in the first half. In the second half, he had a great pass to Oriakhi, sank a 3-pointer, snagged an offensive rebound & lay-up, and played good defense, but he also had a couple of sloppy turnovers.
This was the biggest test for the frontcourt and Oriakhi & Drummond did a great job of holding Gilchrist in check for the most part. Oriakhi continued to struggle offensively and had two quick turnovers and offensive fouls. He did hit a nice jumper against the zone, and had a power move & 1, but he was in foul trouble for much of the second half. Drummond is making leaps and bounds in his development. He worked hard on the boards, protected the rim, had back-to-back offensive rebounds, and scored on a slam when it looked that USF was making a comeback. He has supplanted himself as the team’s best big man and made a statement that he is going to be a force down low all Big East season.
Olander had a solid game. He had a nice dish, a jumper against the zone, made his free throws, and an offensive rebound & put-back. He was the most reliable bench player this game. Smith got the start but struggled to find his offensive game. He did make his free throws and played good defense, but he hasn't shown that defensive or rebounding prowess that he demonstrated last year. Daniels had a sweet reverse early on, had a hustle save, a couple of blocks, and a tip-in. Daniels and Smith will be battling all year for minutes and both are doing a good job with the limited time they are getting because of the three guard line-up, but Daniels' minutes have shined more.
This was a great win for this team. They needed to get off to a good start in conference play and to do it in a hostile environment is the confidence builder that this team needed. The great thing was that they did it on the defensive end, got the lead and answered every run with one of their own. They’ll need to limit the turnovers which they had done a much better job and get off the better starts to both halves, but without their leader in Calhoun and against a gritty team in USF, they couldn't of had a better outcome.