Friday, February 22, 2013

Familiar Territory

This was an important game for UConn.  They needed to hold home court, have a strong performance from their backcourt, and battle hard on the boards against a team they will face again in a week.  Both teams started hot, UConn hitting 3-pointers and Cincinnati getting easy looks in the paint.  The Bearcats did a great job of pushing the ball on every make and attacking UConn’s defense before it could settle and getting to the rim numerous times.  It was a game of runs with Cincinnati biting into the Huskies lead to cut it to three as the first half ended . The second half couldn’t have been more different.  They both struggled to get their offenses going.  UConn mixed and matched defenses while Cincinnati played in-your-shirt defense, cutting off any dribble penetration and taking a page out of Villanova's playbook.  While the defenses were locked in during the second half, there were plenty of wide open jumpers that both teams missed.  When the dust settled, UConn found themselves in familiar territory, overtime.  In the extra period, UConn sprinted out to an early lead and rode the hot hand of Shabazz Napier.  Stretching the lead to three possessions, they used solid free throw shooting to keep the Bearcats at bay for the victory.  While the rebounding remains a major concern, the backcourt bounced back to form and the frontcourt made plays down the stretch to pull off this much needed win.

Napier hit three 3-pointers in the first half with one being a spectacular turnaround three.  The second half was a struggle for him, having two travels and a turnover. Other than a lay-up late in the half and two trips to the line, he couldn’t sniff the rim.  But that ended in the overtime session where he nailed a 3-pointer to open the extra session and added two more after that.  There is no question as to whose team this is and Napier has grabbed the leadership reins, carrying this team to several victories in overtime periods alone.  He thrives in these pressure overtime situations and came through again.

Boatright forced things early with some bad decisions while attacking the basket but got things going midway through the first half with a lay-up, a jumper, and a 3-pointer.  He struggled to score in the second half and only hit two free throws in overtime for his only points after the first half.  He has begun dribbling into trouble and having a tough time creating his own shot.  He needs to cut harder on the pick and roll and is inviting the double team with some of his decisions. Hopefully he can bounce back from this funk that he has been in and adjust his game to what how defenses are playing him lately.  Calhoun battled a wrist injury and it showed in his inability to get shots, but he attacked the glass, snagging a team high 6 boards.  He also made some crucial free throws in overtime. This team did miss his points, especially in the second half.  Evans played in the first half and had an offensive rebound and banked in a free throw, but had little effect on the game.

Daniels was everywhere but it didn't start out that way, giving up a dunk on poor defensive positioning, turning the ball over, and was promptly benched in the first minute of play, but he certainly bounced back.  He was a menace on defense, blocking 4 shots, draining two 3-pointers, sinking two jumpers with one being a nice turnaround baseline shot, and knocking down clutch free throws in overtime.  Olander got to the line in the first half, dunked the basketball, and had a nice pass.  He still struggled defensively against the pick and roll and only had 2 rebounds in his 32 minutes which isn't even close to what this team needs from him.  Giffey had a good first half with a lay-up and one, and he had an offensive rebound and lay-up, but then disappeared down the stretch.  Nolan got some playing time and was pushed out rebounding the basketball but that was about it.

This team keeps playing with one hand tied behind it's back with their inability to get defensive boards.  It puts so much pressure on their defense to hold serve for two or three possessions in a row and they need to rely on the 3-pointer to make up for the significant difference in possessions.  It worked out in this game, but it isn't a long term solution.  They'll need to be better on the boards to win on the road against a struggling but still scrappy DePaul squad.  Hopefully Boatright can get back on track, Olander can rebound, and Calhoun can heal up for the next game, because it is a tough end of the regular season stretch for this team and they need to finish strong for any chance to win the regular season title.

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