It is all about the rebounding with UConn. When Syracuse went on their run in the first half, they out rebounded UConn by ten. The Orange were able to get second and third opportunities in which they converted. They also were able to get to the rim too easily throughout the game with little to no help to seal up the lane for charges. But UConn was able to turn the tables on Syracuse by giving them a taste of their own medicine. They attacked the glass with the help of Drummond, Smith, and Oriakhi. Credit has to go to Syracuse who was the better team. They played well in what had to be one of the best crowds ever at Gampel and made the plays down the stretch. UConn just couldn’t put together the stops down the stretch or get a good shot in the closing seconds, but they played hard, showed heart, and played together. UConn fans have to be proud of that.
Lamb had a good game. His energy and effort was all over the court from following up a missed floater to battling in that zone for two offensive rebounds. He did struggle defensively in the first half and wasn’t rotating back on defense or running hard. He did end up with 19 points and 7 boards but could’ve done more in the zone instead of settling for the three pointer, taking 8 and only making 2. They need to find ways of getting him into the middle of the zone without the basketball because he is one of the best in the country on the mid-ranged game. He only got to the line three times, because he had a hard time penetrating the zone. It was a good sign to see him more decisive with the ball though and the team needs him to take more of a leadership role in the offense.
Napier did his best Rajon Rondo impersonation, not looking for his shot and made it a determination to get assists. He did get 7 assists, but this team needed more then 3 field goal attempts from Napier. He had several open shots, some ten feet and out, and didn’t take it. He also didn’t get to the line, where with his speed and dribbling skills, he should have had several trips. His poor decision on a three point attempt late in the ballgame took away a vital possession and he needed to make a better play. Boatright’s outside shooting was key to keeping UConn in this game, but like Lamb he settled for too many, taking 8 attempts from beyond the arc. He only had one field goal that wasn’t from deep and he also needs to find ways to getting into the lane to find trips to the line. He didn’t take one free throw attempt. Without Napier’s scoring, his points were vital. He struggled to keep his defender in front of him throughout the game and several of his defenders found easy lanes directly to the basket.
Drummond was a beast. He had several dunks against the zone and attacked the glass for seven offensive rebounds. He did a good job of staying out of foul trouble and played 29 minutes and UConn needed every minute, because he was the only big man rebounding out there. Oriakhi’s game came in spurts. At times he was losing rebounds out of his hands, took his quick off balanced shots, and lost his man on defense, but then he would have monster put-backs and be aggressive on the glass. He just needs to be consistent.
Roscoe Smith had his best game of the year. He backed up a his solid performance against Villanova with a great outing against the Syracuse zone. His energy and efficiency in the center of the zone was vital to UConn’s comeback and he nearly got the winning basket in the final seconds. He also played great defense. Daniels had a freshman-like game. He took two bad three pointers, when he is one of UConn’s worst shooters. He also didn’t rebound the ball and needs to contribute more there. Giffey passed up some open looks to take the ball to the basket but they didn’t fall. Olander only played a sprinkling of minutes because Oriakhi and Drummond stayed out of foul trouble. He did have two rebounds and two blocks in his five minutes.
UConn let a great opportunity slip through their fingers and are now in tournament mode. They can not lose these next two game against Providence and Pittsburgh, but if they play with the same tenacity and heart, they should be able to win the next two games. They just need to clean up the defense in some areas, especially walling off that dribble penetration, rebound like they did in the second half of this game, and attack the rim on offense then they should be in good position heading into selection Sunday, but one thing we know about this team is that there is no telling which team is going to show up not only in the game but in which half. Time has run out and the sense of urgency from this team has to be palpable or they’ll be on the outside looking in.