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UConn turned in a tough, solid performance in a 67-49 win over Vermont in the regular season home opener at Gampel Pavilion.
The Huskies relied on a physical, active defense, holding the Catamounts to 30 percent shooting (15-for-50), and a balanced offense. Junior Shabazz Napier led the way with 13 points while freshman Omar Calhoun (12 points) and graduate student R.J. Evans (11 points) also hit double figures.
UConn was never really threatened after building a double digit lead to open the second half.
"The guys played hard," coach Kevin Ollie said. "It was a grind-it-out game. … Our balance was good. We didn't have a guy that had 25 points, but that shows we can win in different ways.
"All in all, I was happy with the guys' performance."
Some post-game news, notes and quotes:
-- After a scoreless first half, Ollie encouraged Napier to be more aggressive on offense. Napier responded, scoring all 13 of his points after intermission.
"Shabazz showed up in the second half and played like the Shabazz in the Michigan State game," Ollie said. "He's a great guard. When he plays with that attack mentality going downhill, there's not a guard in America that can hang with him."
-- Vermont coach John Becker was impressed with UConn.
"They're a great team," Becker said. "Obviously, it's a great program. I'm aConnecticutkid and grew up idolizing this program and what Coach Calhoun has built here. Coach Ollie is doing a great job carrying it on.
"… They're physical. They're big. They have two special guards. I thought, for the most part, we did a good job in their two main guys there – Napier and Boatright. I thought Olander really hurt us inside, especially on the offensive glass."
-- Olander played a terrific all-around game. He led the team with nine rebounds, including five on the offensive end. He was one rebound shy of his career high.
"He's playing with confidence," Ollie said.
In the battle of former E.O. Smith teammates, Olander had the upper hand against Ethan O'Day who finished with four points and six rebounds before fouling out.
"It was real exciting," Olander said. "Ethan and I have been friends for a long time. He lives literally around the corner from me so we grew up always playing with each other."
-- Ollie expanded his rotation, using 10 players.
Freshmen reserves Leon Tolksdorf and Phillip Nolan made their first appearance this season.
In seven minutes, Tolksdorf missed his only field goal attempt and had a foul. Nolan quickly picked up three fouls but did score his first basket of his career. He also grabbed a rebound and had two blocks in seven minutes.
"I told those guys if they play hard in practice, they're going to get minutes," Ollie said. "And they've played hard in practice."
Center Enosch Wolf played just one minute, earning two fouls.
-- The Huskies had 23 points off 16 turnovers. Calhoun had a team-high four steals.
-- Ollie praised R.J. Evans who played a productive 17 minutes. He made all five field goal attempts and went 1-for-1 from the line.
Evans has been UConn's best reserve in the first two games.
"I love what he's giving to this team," Ollie said. "He's been a great addition to this team."
Check out the attached video for more about Evans.
-- Here's something that you won't see that often: an opponent took more foul shots than UConn in a game at Gampel Pavilion. Vermont went 16-for-21 and UConn 14-for-18 from the line.
-- For the second straight game, UConn was out-rebounded. Vermont held a 39-32 edge and had 17 offensive boards.
-- The Huskies are leaving for the U.S. Virgin Islands on Thursday. They open up the Paradise Jam by playing WakeForest on Friday.
Today’s American Athletic Conference Championship semifinal doubleheader is underway here at the XL Center in Hartford. A crowd in the 12,000-13,000 range is expected for the UConn-Tulsa game. Tip-off time is 5 p.m.