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Daniels shows some resolve

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published February 23. 2013 4:00AM

The hook came just one minute, 11 seconds into Thursday's game, and back to the bench went sophomore DeAndre Daniels.

It was an unsually quick move by coach Kevin Ollie's standards. He had already seen enough after an unguarded Daniels fumbled the basketball out of bounds.

A year ago, Daniels would have reacted poorly to the situation. This time he responded, eventually returning to help UConn pull out a 73-66 overtime win over Cincinnati in Hartford.

"I messed up on a play that he just drew," Daniels said. "He took me out and said that I needed to lock in and focus, and that's what I did when I came back in.

"I think last year I wouldn't have been able to handle that. I probably would have just sat on the bench mad."

Daniels' mature reaction was a statement about his growth as a player and his relationship with Ollie, who instilled a belief in his Huskies.

When Daniels makes a big impact, UConn is awfully tough to beat. He had one of his best all-around games, finishing with 17 points, five rebounds and a career-high tying four blocks.

Ollie was impressed with Daniels' play and his reaction to the early exit.

"DeAndre was great," Ollie said. "He gave us big time minutes. ... I pulled him in the first minute because he gambled and then he didn't give a box out and made a bad play. But he took it like a man.

"That's what this team is all about - they take it, they get back in the game and they get back in the fight. I just respect DeAndre so much because where he's come from. ... He's understanding how to perform in the Big East and how to make an impact in a game. That's a wonderful thing."

Fresh off an inspired overtime win, the Huskies (18-7, 8-5) visit DePaul (11-15, 2-11) at 8 tonight at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill. With a win, they can surpass last year's Big East win total.

It's a homecoming game for sophomore Ryan Boatright, who starred at nearby East Aurora (Ill.) High School.

Daniels, a smooth 6-foot-8, 195-pound forward, has started every game this season. With a thin frontcourt, he's had to adjust to playing power forward when his athletic game is better suited for the wing.

He's developing the toughness needed to battle down low. He leads the team in rebounding at 4.9 per game to go with 11.0 points. Those numbers are much improved over the 3.0 points and 2.1 rebounds as a freshman.

"I've adjusted a lot to Big East play," Daniels said. "I'm getting more comfortable and confident in myself."

Daniels saved the Huskies when they hit an offensive rut, scoring nine of the team's 18 points in the second half. He nailed a huge 3-pointer with 3:15 left to cut the deficit to one.

Shabazz Napier finished off the Bearcats, forcing overtime with a tough runner and scoring 11 points in the extra session.

Momentum is on UConn's side heading into tonight's game. Slumping DePaul has lost 10 of its last 11 games.

UConn easily won the first meeting, 99-78, on Jan. 8 in Storrs against a DePaul team that played without two suspended starters. The Huskies had their biggest rebounding advantage of the season (49-29).

Daniels scored a career-high 26 points and added eight rebounds.

His teammates expect Daniels to continue to be a big factor in the final five games.

"He's a stat sheet stuffer in many ways," Napier said. "He did a lot of things (Thursday) that we normally see him do in practice. It's great for him to show it on the court, especially in a great game.

"... We hope he continues to believe in himself as much as he did in this game."

g.keefe@theday.com

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