Travel-weary UConn men get right back to work tonight

Storrs — Still fighting fatigue from a long trip home from Germany, UConn returned to work Monday afternoon.

Coach Kevin Ollie was pleasantly pleased with his team's effort.

"They came out here with a lot of enthusiasm today and effort," Ollie said. "Even though it was a tough day for them mentally, jet lag and all those excuses that you can use, but they didn't use of any them today.

"... They gave me a lift. They came out and played very, very strong and very, very hard. They executed and their timing was good and now you've just got to carry over to tomorrow."

UConn (1-0) heads into tonight's home opener against Vermont (7 p.m., SNY) still riding high from an upset of then-No. 14 Michigan State (66-62) on Friday in the Armed Forces Classic in Germany.

The victory vaulted the Huskies into the Associated Press Top 25 poll, checking in at No. 23. They were far more interested in talking about their incredible experience of visiting with Ramstein Air Base military personnel than any ranking.

"It was great, a once-in-a-lifetime experience," guard R.J. Evans of Salem said.

The Huskies, who returned home Saturday night, now must avoid the dreaded letdown.

They're going from a nationally-televised game against a marquee opponent in a unique and inspirational setting to hosting an America East program at Gampel Pavilioin. The Catamounts (1-0), who return three starters from a team that went 24-12 and reached the NCAA tournament second round, are the preseason favorite to win the league.

"I just told those guys it's easy to get up for Michigan State," Ollie said. "It's going to be a challenge for them. ... Vermont is coming in here ready to play and they want to make their mark."

Ollie hopes to carry over several positive developments from Friday's stirring win.

The Huskies played with great energy and intensity right from the start and exhibited poise and mental toughness while holding off a late charge from Michigan State.

When the Spartans overcame a double-digit deficit to take a two-point lead with under six minutes left, the Huskies responded. Napier and sophomore Ryan Boatright buried consecutive 3-pointers to hand UConn the lead for good.

"We took a punch and kept fighting," Ollie said. "I really love that about our team, how we kept grinding it out. Hopefully, we can build off that."

Ollie also loved the leadership of junior Shabazz Napier who gathered the team together and gave them a pep talk at that crucial point.

Napier says he never would have grabbed the leadership reins last season. He's willing to take charge now.

"At that point in time, we just looked scattered," Napier said. "I wanted to bring the guys together and tell them we're going to win this game, just keep our composure. They made their run and now it's our turn to make our run. That's exactly what we did."

The next step for the Huskies is to establish some consistency. An impressive victory in Ollie's coaching debut will lose some of its shine if the Huskies stumble tonight.

"I want them to come out and play the right way and play hard," Ollie said. "I want to give these fans a great show.

"I just want to see consistency. I just want them to come out with the same sense of urgency, same ball pressure, same intensity that they came out with against Michigan State."

News and notes

Boatright, who sprained his ankle against Michigan State, participated in all but one drill at practice. "I think he's fine," Ollie said. ... NFA basketball coach Neal Curland attended practice, visiting Evans who starred for the Wildcats. ... Ollie wants to see an improvement in rebounding. The Huskies were outrebounded 43-29 against the Spartans who had 20 offensive boards. ... the NCAA announced Monday that New York's Madison Square Garden, which hasn't hosted an NCAA event since 1961, will host the 2014 East Regional.

g.keefe@theday.com

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