UConn men resume play ready to fight

Storrs - A week between Big East games seems as long as an Alaskan winter, especially coming off a tough overtime loss.

To say the least, UConn is eager to return to action tonight.

The Huskies are tired of battling their own teammates in practice. They're ready to play DePaul in their Big East home opener tonight (7 p.m.) at Gampel Pavilion.

"We almost had a fight the other day, which is good," coach Kevin Ollie said Monday. "I imagine they're tired of hitting each other. Nobody was going to go fight, but it was good to see it though. ? Being around each other (for a week) you get testy a little bit.

"?. We've been working hard. We've been having some outstanding practices. I really like their focus. I think they're going to come out and play hard."

It was testy enough for two good friends and roommates, Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels, to engage in a brief scuffle the other day during a box-out drill. They'll both channel that energy to try to rebound from an 82-76 overtime defeat at Marquette Jan. 1 and beat DePaul.

"That's UConn basketball, everybody gets in a scuffle," Boatright said. "We're good, man. We're bouncing back from that tough loss and we're ready to compete."

This isn't your typical DePaul team coming to Storrs.

The vastly improved Blue Demons (10-5, 1-1), who own only five league wins in the last four seasons, need only three victories to top last year's overall total. They've already captured more true road games than last season, climbing to 4-0 after beating Providence 83-73 on Saturday.

The Huskies (10-3, 0-1) have dominated the series, winning seven straight by an average of 17.1 points. But they're not about to overlook the Blue Demons tonight.

"They've been playing very, very well," Ollie said. "They lost a one-pointer to Seton Hall and then they came back and had a great game against Providence. They're 4-0 on the road, so they've got a belief in themselves and their coaching staff. They're doing a really, really good job."

Ollie has some concerns heading into tonight's game. Taking care of the basketball is likely at the top of the list.

The Blue Demons have forced an average of 22 turnovers in the first two Big East games. And they've used those turnovers to fuel their up-tempo offense.

"We're going to have to break pressure and that's going to be one of the things that we're going to focus on," Ollie said.

You'd think DePaul's defensive pressure would play right into UConn's hands given its backcourt strength. The guard trio of Shabazz Napier, Boatright and Omar Calhoun has helped keep the team's turnovers at a reasonable level, as the Huskies are averaging 11.3 per game.

The speedy Boatright is looking forward to facing pressure.

"When I see a press, my eyes light up," Boatright said. "I call it Layup City. As long as we do our job and break the press, we should be all right."

One other significant concern is containing 6-foot-8 forward Cleveland Melvin, a preseason All-Big East second team selection. He ranks in the top 10 in overall games in the Big East in both scoring (8th, 16.7 points) and rebounds (5th, 7.7).

UConn sophomore DeAndre Daniels will likely draw the tough defensive assignment.

"They're going to have to worry about DeAndre on the offensive end as much as we worry about Melvin," Ollie said. "(Cleveland) is definitely a load down there. He's been an outstanding player in the Big East since he's been here, so I don't think it will stop this year.

"We're going to have to neutralize him."

g.keefe@theday.com

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