HARTFORD — A few weeks back, Kevin Ollie promised a West Coast meets East Coast approach, a high-tempo transition game coupled with the physicality of Big East ball.
“I grew up with Showtime,” said Ollie, who hails from Los Angeles. “James Worthy running the break, Magic Johnson — that’s the West Coast mentality, getting up and down.”
It wasn’t quite Magic and Worthy, but the dynamic backcourt of Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier and Omar Calhoun ran circles around UMass Lowell as UConn coasted to a 100-62 victory Sunday afternoon.
And the Huskies earned some style points, too: With the rout already on at the XL Center, Shabazz Napier, leading a 3-on-2 fastbreak, bounced a pass between his legs to a trailing Ryan Boatright, who buried a 3-pointer to put UConn up 66-44. Boatright (22 points, six assists and five rebounds) added a pair of fastbreak dunks and the Huskies totaled 26 points in transition. In turn, a one-point game — UMass-Lowell held a 27-26 advantage with 7:25 remaining in the first half — quickly morphed into a laugher.
“No one can really guard us in transition,” Calhoun said. “We’ve got the best backcourt, we’ve got shooters spotting up and guys who can get to the rim.”
The best? Well, that remains to be seen, but two preseason games in, it’s clear that the trio of Boatright, Napier and Calhoun can do some serious damage. For the second consecutive outing, Calhoun was lights-out from beyond the arc, connecting on 5-of-6 attempts for 20 points in just 22 minutes. He’s now 8-for-12 from 3-point range in the team’s two exhibition victories.
“You don’t have to run any plays for him,” Ollie said. “He’s getting it off of just being a basketball player, just relocating and getting into gaps. He is smooth. I just want him to continue to do that on a day-to-day basis. One thing about him is he stays in the gym. Make or miss, he stays in the gym.”
Sophomore forward DeAndre Daniels, playing slightly out-of-position as a power forward, dominated the glass, which sparked UConn’s electric fastbreak. Daniels scored 15 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, blocked four shots and dished out three assists, the type of all-around performance that Ollie seeks going forward.
“It’s been two exhibition games so we’re not going to get too high or low,” Ollie said. “But if he continues to play with that effort and resiliency, he’s going to be a good, good player for us and make an imprint on the season.”
The Huskies played what Ollie called “pretty much a full game” in their final exhibition tune-up: UConn shot 53 percent from the field, dished out twice as many assists (20) as turnovers (10) and controlled the glass, 52-34.
As UMass-Lowell coach Greg Herenda put it, the Huskies were “sharp, quick, long, athletic and fast.” The River Hawks tried all sorts of defenses—zone press, man, halfcourt trap—and none were remotely close to effective. Perhaps it’s to be expected against a Division II opponent, a team simply incapable of matching UConn’s athleticism and, quite frankly, its skill.
After three clean, fairly impressive halves (the first 20 minutes versus AIC were a struggle), the preseason is in the books. A trip to Germany — and a nationally-televised date with No. 14 Michigan State — will give the Huskies their first true test.
“Friday is the real deal,” Daniels said. “It’s the first real game and we’ll be ready and prepared for that. We play hard and that will help keep us in the game.”