A look at the good, bad and ugly from UConn’s 80-43 hammering of Houston Thursday night at Gampel Pavilion. The Huskies moved to 5-3 in the American Athletic Conference and into a tie for fourth place with SMU.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
- ‘LEVEL FIVE’ INTENSITY: The Huskies lacked it the first time around at Houston, but they brought it from the tip the second time. Amida Brimah missed a jumper on the first possession, but Niels Giffey crashed the glass and tipped in the rebound. From there, it was ‘game on’ Huskies.
UConn coach Kevin Ollie’s take: “We stayed in the middle of the ring. We didn’t get on the ropes like they got us on the ropes in Houston. We were fighting. We were throwing punches, and that’s what I want my guys to do. We want to throw punches, multiple punches. We might not knock somebody out in the first round, but over the course of the game, we’ll knock you out hopefully.”
“And that’s what we did tonight.”
2. TAMING THOMAS: TaShawn Thomas came into the night as the lone player to rank in the top five in The American in scoring (16.4 ppg) and rebounds (8.8 rpg). He missed shots early and often in the rematch, turning into a non-factor with just four points and six rebounds in 23 minutes even though the Huskies were without forward DeAndre Daniels (high ankle sprain).
Ollie’s take: “I thought the key was, the Ace of Spades of the game, was TaShawn Thomas, and to hold him to (4) points and (6 rebounds), that’s just a great job by Amida. And then Phil (Nolan) came in and gave us a lift on the offensive and defensive end. It was just a complete game by us.”
3. DOUBLE TROUBLE: Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright lived up to their billing as the “top guard tandem” in the conference with a combined 34 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two steals. They also helped kick start the Husky big men – Brimah and Nolan.
Ollie’s take: “I think that dunk got (Phil) going in the beginning, and that’s what good point guards do. Ryan was punching it, and if you get the big guy in it early and you get them a dunk, their whole world changes. Their energy goes up, and that’s what you try to do. You take care of your bigs, especially when they’re running like that, and the bigs will take care of you – start blocking shots, start setting screens.”
4. DEFENSE, DEFENSE DEFENSE: The Cougars shot just 27.3 percent (9-for-33) in the first half and the same number for the game (18-for-66). UConn turned 13 Houston turnovers into 20 points and held a 17-4 edge on fast-break points.
Houston coach James Dickey’s take: “We didn’t shoot the ball well tonight, but I thought that had a lot to do with their defense. We got challenged at the rim.”
Add Ollie: “Our first three steps of transition were great. Everybody was pointing, everybody was talking. And that’s what good defensive teams do.”
5. UNSUNG HERO: Giffey started in place of Daniels at the ‘4’ and turned in a solid night with 10 points – on 4-for-5 shooting and six rebounds in 23 minutes. He also set the tone for UConn with the early put-back basket.
WHAT NEEDS WORK
- CONFIDENCE CRISIS: It was almost a perfect night for the Huskies, but sophomore Omar Calhoun still seems unsettled on the floor, especially the offensive end. In 18 minutes, Calhoun was 0-for-4 from the field and made 1 of 2 free throws to finish with one point. He did try to contribute in other ways, though, with three rebounds and two steals. Ollie and the Huskies continue to comment about how hard Calhoun is working in practice, but UConn really could use is scoring touch back.
- SPLITTING HAIRS: A few little things – the Huskies had 11 turnovers with 12 assists and they only shot 31.3 percent in the second half – but when you are up 30-plus points, neither statistic really mattered.
UConn at Cincinnati, 7 p.m Thursday (ESPN): The Bearcats fended off a late charge from Louisville Thursday night to stay unbeaten in the AAC (9-0) and extend its first-place lead over the pack to 21/2 games.
“We got a week off and then we’re going down to the best team in the American Conference, Cincinnati,” Ollie said.
DeAndre Daniels missed his first game of the season with a high ankle sprain, which he suffered against Rutgers last Saturday. Daniels did not take part in Thursday’s shoot around and was in street clothes with a walking boot on the foot during the game on the bench.
“DeAndre is a competitor, everyone saw that at the RAC when he came back in,” Ollie said. “He wanted to play, but I listen to (trainer) James Doran … and he was trying to get him right, but he just wasn’t to the point where he could be effective. We went with Niels and gave him another week to sit out because we just don’t want it to linger on.
“It was just precautionary reasons we held him out and hopefully he’s ready for Cincinnati.”