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Coach Jim Calhoun can tolerate — just barely, though — some mistakes by his young UConn basketball team during the growth process.
He can't tolerate a lack of sustained effort.
"We can't afford the ups and downs ever on effort," Calhoun said Thursday.
The seventh-ranked Huskies (6-0) looked nothing like the hardest-working team in the country, a motto Calhoun is attempting to get his team to buy into, in Tuesday's win over New Hampshire.
Calhoun expects a surge in the effort department tonight against Maryland-Baltimore County (0-6) at 7 at the XL Center in Hartford. He's treating every game as an opportunity for UConn to improve and mature.
"Every one of these games, more so than most times, is important for us developmental wise," Calhoun said. "We need to develop to be a better basketball team than we played the other night. … We've got to have a better effort.
"I don't think anybody is lackadaisical. They've got to be sharp. They can't go by the name on front of the jersey. They've got to go by just playing basketball to the best of their ability."
The day after Calhoun expressed disappointment in his team's play against New Hampshire, the Huskies concentrated on offensive and defensive execution in practice. He also looked at snippets of videotape from all six games, pulling out highlights and lowlights in order to get a better feel for his team's focus.
He noticed how slow the Huskies looked against New Hampshire, their first game since returning from the Maui Invitational in Hawaii.
"I can't account for that," Calhoun said. "Could it be Hawaii? I have no idea. I just know we didn't look very fast on tape. And it all still comes back to us getting back to who we are and what we are."
Part of who they are includes relying on a 9-10-man rotation. Only seven Huskies played double-figure minutes against New Hampshire.
To maintain a deep bench, Calhoun has to have confidence in all of his reserves, and that's not the case right now. Mistake-prone senior Charles Okwandu was pulled from Tuesday's game after committing a turnover 20 seconds in. Freshman Jeremy Lamb, another starter, has seen his playing time drop off in recent games.
Calhoun raved about Lamb during preseason but the swingman is playing tentatively, a problem for a number of other freshmen as well.
"What I thought before we started this whole thing, I feel today (about Lamb)," Calhoun said. "Yesterday in practice he was unstoppable. That's not every day. He's a very talented kid. We got to get him to play at a better speed."
Okwandu and Lamb have company in their search for consistency.
Freshman Shabazz Napier is a pest on defense but erratic on offense. Niels Giffey also is sound defensively but his jump shot comes and goes. Fellow freshman Roscoe Smith takes his share of bad shots but impacts the game with shot-blocking and rebounding. Calhoun is considering giving Smith his first career start tonight.
"I could go right through the list of guys," Calhoun said. "Bottom line, we need more sense of consistency. If it's just effort, I'll take that right now because that's what we need. … We need to have a full effort, all-out, every time we play."
The Huskies have four games before their Big East Conference opener Dec. 27 at Pittsburgh to figure some things out.
Maryland-Baltimore County is unlikely to pose as great a threat as fellow America East team New Hampshire. The Retrievers open the season playing four of their first six games on the road, including a 71-59 loss at Penn on Tuesday. Leading scorer Travis King (15 points per game) is from New Haven.
Location: XL Center, Hartford
Tip-off: 7 p.m. (SNY)
Records: UConn 6-0, UMBC 0-6
Last game: UConn beat New Hampshire, 62-55, Tuesday; UMBC lost at Penn, 71-59, Tuesday
Probable starters: UConn, 6-1 jr. guard Kemba Walker (30.0 pts, 3.3 assists), 6-5 fr. guard Jeremy Lamb (4.7 pts, 4.5 rebs), 6-7 fr. forward Niels Giffey (5.0 pts, 2.3 rebs), 6-9 so. center Alex Oriakhi (12.3 pts, 11.7 rebs), 7-1 sr. center Charles Okwandu (0.5 pts, 1.3 rebs)
UMBC, 5-10 jr. guard Chris De La Rosa (14.0 pts, 7.3 assists), 6-2 grad. guard Travis King (15.0 pts), 6-6 fr. forward Chase Plummer (8.5 pts, 3.8 rebs), 6-9 grad. forward Laurence Jolicoeur (9.0 pts, 6.0 rebs), 6-10 grad. forward Justin Fry (8.7 pts, 6.5 rebs)
Noteworthy: First meeting between teams. … Fourth straight home game against America East opponent. Huskies 36-2 against America East teams under Calhoun. … Walker entered season averaging 11.7 points in career, scored 12 or more points in nine of 12 halves this season. Needs two points to become 45th member of UConn's 1,000-career-point club. First Husky to ever score 180 points in first six games. … UMBC lost to Howie Dickenman's Central Conn., 82-74, Nov. 20. … Connecticut connection: King (New Haven), soph. reserve Adrian Satchell (Windsor), an All-America East rookie-team pick last season, Matt Conway (St. Thomas More). … Retrievers shooting 40.2 percent and allowing 83.7 points per game. … Calhoun's concern: consistency of effort coming off lackluster win over UNH. … Up next: UConn hosts Fairleigh Dickinson on Wednesday in Storrs.
- Gavin Keefe