Monday, February 10, 2014

Business Trip

Coming off a tough loss at Cincinnati, UConn looked to bounce back against a young but struggling UCF team.  Like their previous game, UConn’s jumpers just weren’t dropping for them, hitting only 5 of 17 from deep, but the difference was that they attacked the basket this time.  They owned the paint and had 18 offensive rebounds and the backcourt of Napier, Boatright, and Kromah did a masterful job on the perimeter, causing 10 turnovers that ultimately led to points on the other end.  UCF wouldn’t go away quietly and when they inserted Justin McBride, UConn had no answer.  The big man got to anywhere he wanted to in the paint and had easy looks at the rim.  He provided the spark to chip away at UConn’s lead but it wasn’t enough to overcome the deficit and UConn made enough plays in the closing minutes to balloon the lead back to double digits for the win.

Napier displayed a balanced game.  He made some nice passes early on, looking inside for his big men.  He didn’t rely on his jumper, even though it was working for him.  Only 4 of his 11 shots were from deep.  His defense was spectacular and caused havoc against UCF’s younger guards.  He is still getting a bit too fancy with his passing and turning the ball over instead of making a safer and higher percentage play, but he made plays when UConn needed him to make them.

Boatright didn’t hit a jumper until the closing minutes of the game.  He did most of his damage attacking the basket and getting to the line.  While Napier was on the bench, Boatright had some issues finding his offense.  He had trouble dribbling in traffic and he forced some shots.  It wasn’t his best performance but when this team needed to make a play to stem UCF’s run, he made them.  He has a tough time finding a way to score when he is taking five or more dribbles and really needs to focus on ball movement and quicker decisions when he is running the point.

There was no telling what Daniels would bring to this game because he was coming off an ankle and back injury that had kept him out of a couple of games.  It only took a minute to see that he was fine.  He hustled around the paint, getting offensive rebounds and scoring on the post.  He still takes some awkward shots on the post, but his floater has finally started to drop for him again.  He did everything from three dunks, three floaters, a put-back, and taking a charge.  This is the DeAndre Daniels that UConn has been waiting for and hopefully will see heading forward.

Kromah was simply amazing.  He hit two 3-pointers, three lay-ups, a pretty fade-away jumper, and a floater that was goal-tended.  On top of all that, he played great on defense, snagging a team high 4 steals.  He’s putting together several solid games in a row.  Giffey played good defense and made some key hustle plays early, but didn’t have his offense working for him.  He missed some wide open jumpers.  Calhoun played a sprinkling of minutes and had an assist.  Samuel also got into the game in the first half and played some good defense.  It is good to see him get some trust from Ollie to play some critical minutes.  It will pay dividends heading forward.

Nolan made a major impact in the first half.  He had a dunk, a floater, a lay-up, a nice outlet pass, and took a charge.  He had trouble controlling space when McBride was put into the game, but did have a lay-up and put-back in the second half.  Brimah struggled mightily to play defense without fouling.  He did have a nice offensive rebound and put-back, but sat much of this game on the bench.  Olander played sparingly and was pushed around in the paint.  This unit provided UConn with 12 points,  8 boards, and 3 blocks.

It was good to see UConn not be so dependent with their jumpers and to score around the paint, but McBride’s dominance in just a short span of time still shows UConn’s Achilles heel, even though they held their own on the boards.  They will now host UCF and can’t let these home games slip away from them if they want to remain in contention for a high seed come March.  Barring a major collapse in February, they are a lock for the Big Dance, but right now it is all about seeding for them and dropping home games against teams not going to be in the tournament will hurt them.  So it is imperative that they remain focused and take care of business at home against these teams looking for a signature win.

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