UConn-Syracuse men's game has some extra juice
Kevin Ollie has a no-nonsense coaching philosophy when missing a player, whether it due to injury or, in this case, an indefinite suspension.
"Next guy steps up and we go forward," Ollie said Tuesday following practice at Gampel Pavilion. "It's all about Syracuse. We change the channel and go forward."
UConn will be without reserve center Enosch Wolf, who was suspended indefinitely after being arrested following an on-campus domestic dispute early Monday morning, for tonight's Big East game against No. 6 Syracuse at the XL Center in Hartford (7 p.m., ESPN). Wolf is scheduled to appear in Rockville Superior Court today.
"We're going to let the legal process take care of itself," Ollie said.
The loss means UConn will be even more shorthanded in an already thin frontcourt against the first-place Orange (20-3, 8-2).
Now, more than ever, the Huskies need their forwards - Tyler Olander, Niels Giffey, DeAndre Daniels ... and even little-used freshmen Phil Nolan - to play big in every way, especially Olander, a starter averaging just 4.5 points and 3.7 rebounds.
"I definitely need to put more stats up on the stats sheet and just contribute more all around," Olander said. "There's more pressure to produce and get more out of the minutes that I'm getting."
Ollie hasn't lost faith in the 6-foot-9 Olander despite the junior's disappointing play. He believes Olander is capable of a contributing double-figure scoring and rebounding games.
"He's just got to get himself involved," Ollie said. "He has to get rebounds, play harder, play with more energy and effort. He's giving it to us, but he's got to go to another level. … We're going to need him to step up and have some big games for us down the stretch with eight games left in the season."
UConn (16-6, 6-4) still believes it has a shot to win the regular-season title. To reach that goal, the Huskies have to beat the Orange, winners of 30 of their last 34 Big East games.
"This is a big game for us for the conference and a lot of other reasons," sophomore Ryan Boatright said.
Syracuse has owned UConn in recent meetings, winning six of the last seven games. But four of the losses were by single digits and a fifth in six overtimes in the 2009 Big East tournament.
The Orange were fortified by the return of senior James Southerland, who sat out six games for academic reasons before playing in Sunday's win over St. John's. He's another in a long line of long, athletic Syracuse players.
"It improves them, big time," Ollie said. "He gives them another long guy that they throw in there. It makes them a deeper team and gives them an added advantage."
For any team to beat Syracuse, it has to crack the Orange's active, extended zone. The key for the Huskies will be crisp ball movement, exploiting holes in the zone and shooting well from the perimeter. Of course, they prefer to get out in transition and beat the defense down court.
"They're long and they're athletic and their zone is probably going to be one of the toughest zones we played against all year," Daniels said.
UConn looks at this game as an opportunity to showcase the program before a nationally-televised audience. These marquee meetings mean more to the Huskies this year with a postseason ban.
And it will be the last Big East game between these two longtime rivals, as Syracuse is headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference next year.
"It's going to be a great game for us to show off what we're all made of," Ollie said. "This team has been great all during the season playing for the love of basketball. No postseason, no nothing.
"It's purely for the love of basketball, for the love of UConn, for the love of the university. I'm very proud of this team. They put themselves in a good position."
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