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Blaney explodes, and so does UConn

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published February 16. 2012 4:00AM   Updated February 16. 2012 10:59AM

Storrs - Mild-mannered George Blaney is a talker not a screamer.

So when the UConn associate head coach stomped into the locker room at halftime and screamed at the Huskies to give better effort, the players were shocked, to say the least.

Blaney even hit the chalkboard.

"He really got into us," sophomore Shabazz Napier said. "It was kind of surprising because he doesn't usually yell. I took the guys to the side before we went out for the second half, and (said), 'you understand what just happened? Coach Blaney just yelled at us. That just means something. He never does that.'

"We just took that and ran with it. He did a lot of coach Calhoun antics. To get him upset, I thought it was impossible but we did."

UConn responded by turning a relatively close Big East game into a rout, scoring a vital 80-54 win over DePaul at Gampel Pavilion. The Huskies scored 46 points in the second half and went over 70 for the first time since Dec. 31 against St. John's (83-69).

Losers of six of seven games coming in, the Huskies (16-9, 6-7) played with a sense of urgency and rode the momentum of an inspired effort in Saturday's loss at No. 2 Syracuse. Every game is crucial down the stretch in order to secure an NCAA tournament bid.

Blaney pointed out that UConn has a strong RPI (21st) and a favorable remaining schedule.

"We keep telling them that we are in a very good position if we just start getting some wins," Blaney said. "Before tonight, we had four games at home and two on the road left, which is favorable even though the teams are really, really tough.

"But this was the 40 minutes that we had in front of us, and we kept stressing that. And I was screaming it in the locker room and I was screaming it at halftime. We stayed with it and put together a really good second half."

UConn got the message early, playing loose and enjoying its re-energized offense while storming to a 26-10 lead in the first 8:09. But the Huskies scored just eight points in the next 11:51 to take a 34-24 lead into halftime.

Enter an angry Blaney.

"He's probably the most down-to-earth, calm person I've ever seen," freshman Andre Drummond said. "So if he is yelling and screaming, we're doing something wrong. We figured it out and went out there and executed everything that he wanted us to do."

The Huskies put on a show, dunking and fastbreaking their way to an easy win. Drummond had five dunks - two off alley-oop passes from Napier - to fuel a 19-8 run to start the half. His transition jam pushed the lead to 53-32.

Some careless play allowed DePaul to creep within 13 with 11:16 remaining before UConn regained its edge, handing the Blue Demons their most lopsided loss this season. DePaul (11-14, 2-11) has dropped 10 of its last 11 games.

Jeremy Lamb (18 points), Drummond (15 points, nine rebounds), Alex Oriakhi (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Napier (14 points, 11 assists) sparked the attack.

UConn shared the basketball, assisting on 23 of 33 field goals, and dominated the boards (50-27) and shot 47.8 percent.

"We're just trying to come out of this slump and work hard as a team," Lamb said.

Earlier Wednesday, UConn announced that Calhoun will continue his indefinite medical leave of absence for at least three more games. The Huskies are 2-2 in the last four games without Calhoun.

Blaney just hopes Calhoun returns soon.

"I'm hoping that I can live through it," Blaney said. "If I have to work as hard as I did tonight, I'm not so sure."

g.keefe@theday.com

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