It had to be one of the strangest beginnings to a game ever with Napier taking two technical free throws before they even started the game. It ended up being a remarkable win for UConn, considering all the adversity they had to overcome. They were on the road in a very difficult place to play, Rutgers was abnormally proficient from deep, and they had to deal with the loss of one of their primary scorers for much of this game. With all that, this team played extremely well on the offensive end, getting transition points and attacking the paint. They also did a fantastic job on the boards, out rebounding Rutgers by 5. Both defenses were spotty though and they had a hard time keeping their hands off each other. They both combined for 55 attempts at the line and it slowed this game down to a crawl and took away the flow of the game.
Napier had a slow start but eventually hit a 3-pointer mid-way through the first half. It wasn’t until the second half that he started taking over. During one stretch he got to the line (sinking two free throws, hit back to back jumpers, hit a stop-and-go floater, and then a lay-up & 1. He had a little trouble passing the ball and has started being a bit too fancy with the passes, but his 2 blocks and 3 steals helped overcome his 4 turnovers.
Boatright continues to struggle on the break and gave up the opportunity to score and passed it to Kromah instead. He needs to explode to the rim in those instances and attack with authority. He has the athletic prowess to make those fast break points but his confidence is pretty low right now. Like Napier, Boatright had a slow start and only had a dunk and a trip to the line as his only points. He started to find clear lanes to the basket and converted there. The most impressive part of his game was his 6 boards. He did a great job of securing those weak side rebounds.
All of UConn nation held their breaths as they saw DeAndre Daniels writhing on the ground in pain in what looked like a major knee injury and when he returned in the second half, this team played a much better even though he didn’t provide much offensively. Despite lack of production, he provided 5 boards and 7 points. Hopefully he’ll be fully healed when they play Thursday.
Giffey finally took his open shots and hit 3 of 6 from deep. He did a great job in helping against the press and made the right play on numerous occasions. He still needs to rebound much better then the 2 boards he provided, but it was good to see him make an impact in both halves of the game. Kromah had a hard time defending without fouling and eventually fouled out. He was great at driving the lanes and got to line while also sinking 2 lay-ups. Omar Calhoun hurt his ankle against Temple. He never got into the game and all his minutes went to Terrence Samuel. Hopefully he’ll get some minutes back because he was making plays just not as many as he was at the start of the season. Samuels played much better and didn’t have those turnovers like he had in his last game. He had a nice driving lay-up & 1 and also snagged a rebound in his 5 quick minutes.
Brimah had a spectacular game. He had an early block, a sweet turnaround hook, a dunk, an two offensive rebound put-backs, and also got to the line. This was the first game that he played with a little swagger. For some reason Coach Ollie decided to keep him on the bench for much of the second half. Nolan got much of those minutes in the second half and struggled to get much of anything going. He had only one rebound, a dunk, and sank two free throws in his 15 minutes of play. Olander provided that much production in just his 3 minutes of play. This unit leaned heavily on Brimah, provided 17 points, 10 boards, and 2 blocks. Not bad for 38 minutes of play.
This team is slowly climbing out of the early hole that they have dug themselves in. They’ll need to continue to play well on the offensive end, hope their jumpers remain locked in, rebound like they did in this game, and win some of these road games. If they do, then they’ll put themselves in position for the title, but they’ll need some of the teams ahead of them to slip up a bit and come down to them. Either way, this team is building for March. They have the resume building wins to be a lock already and just need to avoid a prolonged losing streak. They still have plenty of games left against Louisville, Memphis, and Cincinnati to win the conference title, but they’ll need Boatright, Brimah, and Daniels to play a bit more consistent then they have been. But when you have Napier on your team, their is always a chance.