UConn men hope to keep rolling against Villanova

UConn continues to follow the lead of first-year head coach Kevin Ollie, shown here shouting instructions from the sideline during the Huskies' 66-58 upset of No. 6 Syracuse on Wednesday night at the XL Center in Hartford. UConn hosts Villanova today in Hartford at noon.
UConn continues to follow the lead of first-year head coach Kevin Ollie, shown here shouting instructions from the sideline during the Huskies' 66-58 upset of No. 6 Syracuse on Wednesday night at the XL Center in Hartford. UConn hosts Villanova today in Hartford at noon. jESSICA hILL/ AP photo

Sooner or later, almost every team gets caught in the Big East spin cycle, leading to a losing spiral.

So far, UConn has avoided that fate.

The Huskies have been remarkably consistent, never losing more than two straight games. In comparison, they dropped four straight games last season and seven of nine at one point.

So what's their secret?

"We just want to win so badly," sophomore Ryan Boatright said. "When you drop one, the next one you really want to get back on track. And even if you drop another one, there was no way we were going to drop three in a row.

"We get back in the gym and everybody does what they've got to do. We get back to the basics and it's been working for us."

UConn has won five of six heading into today's Big East game against Villanova (15-10, 6-6) at the XL Center in Hartford (noon, ESPN). The Huskies (17-6, 7-4) are in the hunt for the regular-season title.

Coach Kevin Ollie credits his team's resiliency, a positive mindset and good practice habits for avoiding a lengthy losing streak.

"They're resilient as a group," Ollie said. "It started in Germany, playing at midnight and the travel. They kept playing hard and challenged each other. And they respect and hold each other accountable.

"So it's a good thing they're doing in that locker room. I always tell them to coach their own team instead of me always policing them. They're doing a really good job with that. And they face adversity and they respond. Their state of mind is always good."

There's certainly not an issue with their confidence, either, coming off an upset of No. 6 Syracuse on Wednesday. The Huskies firmly believe in their coach and their ability to beat any team, no matter the circumstances.

When asked if he's worried about a letdown today, Ollie confidently responded, "No."

Boatright agreed.

"We know last game was a huge win and an emotional win," Boatright said. "All that can be washed away with a loss. Everything we're working for and everything we're trying to accomplish rides on the next game, and the game after and the game after that, so all of them are important."

Villanova poses a different challenge than Syracuse. The Wildcats are a tenacious rebounding team, ranking second in Big East games in rebound margin (4.1). Their overall size could create a problem.

"It's going to be a big conscious effort by our guys to hit first and go get rebounds and try to get out in transition and get some early buckets against them," Ollie said.

UConn is trying to compensate for a thin frontcourt by attacking the boards with numbers. They Huskies have held the rebounding edge in two straight games.

Sophomore forward DeAndre Daniels, whose wiry 6-foot-8, 195-pound frame is more suited for the wing position than battling under the basket, has been UConn's best rebounder, averaging 5.0 per game.

When he rebounds well, the Huskies usually win. They are 7-1 when he grabs at least seven rebounds.

"I'm just mixing it up and just knowing my role," Daniels said. "I need to get rebounds every night."

Another difference today will be on the defensive end. After playing primarily against zone in the last three games, UConn expects to see man-to-man defense from the Wildcats.

Villanova had trouble containing Cincinnati's backcourt in a 68-50 loss Tuesday. Coach Jay Wright is concerned about the UConn trio of Shabazz Napier, Boatright and Omar Calhoun.

"We're going to play against three more outstanding guards - a couple of young veterans in Boatright and Napier, who are two of the best guards in the conference, and a great freshman guard who had a heck of a game (Wednesday) in Omar Calhoun," Wright said.

"Kevin Ollie is just doing an outstanding job. … They're just a very, very good Big East team."

g.keefe@theday.com

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