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If the rest of the season is as entertaining as Friday’s opener, UConn basketball fans will be in for quite a thrill ride.
The 18th-ranked Huskies never trailed but nearly lost a 17-point lead before pulling out a 78-77 win over Maryland at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“It was a team win…,” junior Ryan Boatright said. “We got through some adversity and showed our will to win.”
Some post-game notes, quotes and video:
-- Check out at attached video of coach Kevin Ollie's press conference.
-- UConn’s newcomers received a baptism by fire. Freshmen Amida Brimah and Terrence Samuel and graduate student Lasan Kromah played important minutes off the bench.
Brimah, an active, shot-blocking center, is a lot of fun to watch. He blocked three straight Maryland shots in one impressive surge. He also had five points and three rebounds in 15 minutes.
“What impressed me is his passion…,” Ollie said. “He’s just a great kid. He’s still learning the game but he had some blocks where he didn’t even see his person and turned around and got an amazing block.”
Samuel, who’s from Brooklyn, filled in at point guard when Napier fouled out. He had two points two rebounds, one turnover and one steal in seven valuable minutes.
Kromah scored all eight of his points in the first half and played just four of his 13 minutes after intermission.
-- Senior Shabazz Napier had an interesting game.
He led the team in points (18), rebounds (7) and assists (7) and also had two steals. He also had a technical foul for some minor trash talking in the second half and fouled out with one minute, 30 seconds left in the game.
He apologized to his teammates for the technical.
“He lost his composure…,” Ollie said. “But he stepped up and took responsibility.”
-- UConn’s depth played a big role. Ten different Huskies scored and nine different players grabbed at least one rebound. Six different players made 3-pointers.
Their bench combined for 31 points overall compared to 17 forMaryland’s reserves.
-- Ollie was very pleased that the Huskies won the rebounding battle, 36-33. Maryland led the ACC in rebounding margin last year.
“I’m glad that we won because I told them if we were plus rebounds we were going to win this game,” Ollie said. "That team was fifth in the nation last year rebounding and we were almost dead last."
-- Maryland coach Mark Turgeon had some nice things to say about UConn.
“This would have obviously been a great win because I think Connecticut is going to win a lot of games. I think they are a little undervalued because those guards are so good and they make big plays.”
-- It is still hard to believe that senior Tyler Olander, who had converted just one of 10 3-point attempts in his career entering Friday’s game, buried a clutch 3-pointer with 1:57 left that pushed UConn’s lead to 78-73.
“I’ve been working on that shot,” Olander said.
Olander's only other bonus shot came against Harvard in 2011. His teammates have seen Olander regularly hit from 3-point range in practice.
“You’ve got to have a lot of (guts) to take that shot,” Napier said. “He knocked it down. We all believe in him.”
Olander played just nine minutes – all in the second half – and finished with three points and two rebounds.
-- A combined 39 fouls were called, including 22 on UConn. Maryland made 21-of-28 free throws while UConn converted 8-of-13.
The Huskies shot 51.7 percent from the field. The Terrapins made 42.1 percent.
-- In his second career start, sophomore Phil Nolan had two points and three rebounds but got into foul trouble, finishing with four fouls.
“He’s been doing a good job in practice,” Ollie said. “That’s why he started.”
-- Former UConn coach Jim Calhoun stated before the game that Maryland would have troubling handling the Husky guards. He was Joe D’Ambrosio’s partner on WTIC radio.
He was right.
Napier, Boatright (9 points, 6 assists) and sophomore Omar Calhoun (10 points) helped control the game.
“Those guards are terrific and we didn’t have an answer,” Turgeon said. “It felt like whatever they tried seemed to work.”
-- Calhoun, the Hall-of-Famer, recently returned from a trip to Israel where he ran some clinics and visited with former Huskies Gilad Katz, Doron Sheffer and Nadav Henefeld.
So what are his thoughts about this UConn team?
“We’re going to be pretty good,” Calhoun said. “We’re deep. We didn’t have that (depth) last year. We’ve just got to be able to rebound.”
He added: “There’s a good positive vibe about them.”
He also is excited about the future of the game. He raved about North Carolina State transfer Rodney Purvis, who is practicing with the team while sitting out the year.
“Rodney is really good,” Calhoun said. “We have nobody who can stop him.”
-- Up next: UConn hosts Yale at 3 p.m. Monday at the XL Center inHartford
Today’s American Athletic Conference Championship semifinal doubleheader is underway here at the XL Center in Hartford. A crowd in the 12,000-13,000 range is expected for the UConn-Tulsa game. Tip-off time is 5 p.m.