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Most freshmen debuts are rarely memorable.
The experience can be overwhelming and nerve-racking, especially when playing against a big name opponent in a marquee game.
But it was hard to detect any nervousness in freshmen reserves Terrence Samuel and Amida Brimah in UConn's season-opening win over Maryland Friday. While they were far from perfect, they made a big impact and played crucial minutes in a 78-77 victory.
They've already earned the trust of their teammates and coaching staff. They'll be back in action today when UConn hosts Yale at 3 p.m. at the XL Center in Hartford.
"Amida blocked shots and also Terrence stepped up big time," senior Niels Giffey said. "I'm really happy for them because as a freshman I didn't have that kind of confidence back then.
"That's why the older guys, we're trying to make it easy for them … They know we've got their back and they can just focus on basketball. A lot of us learned from our freshmen years. We're just trying to help them be comfortable."
They certainly looked comfortable, even when on the floor for the game's final possession. Brimah secured the victory-clinching rebound off a Maryland miss with one second left. He finished with five points, three rebounds and three blocks in 15 minutes and provided an intimidating presence on defense.
Samuel was in the backcourt because leading scorer Shabazz Napier fouled out with 1:30 left. Overall, he had two points and two rebounds in seven minutes but his only basket came at a good time, halting an 11-0 Maryland run with nine and a half minutes left.
Napier has faith in Samuel, a guard from Brooklyn, N.Y., who had added reason to feel pressure playing in his homecoming game.
"I felt a lot of confidence in Terrence for a freshman," Napier said. "I told him he should love to be in this position. Everyone comes to Connecticut to be in this position, two minutes left in the game, up by one point. … He embraced it and I think he did a good job. Amida did a great job."
Today's Yale game serves as another opportunity for Samuel and Brimah to state a case for playing time in a crowded rotation.
Given his team's depth in the backcourt, coach Kevin Ollie may have a tough time finding extended minutes for Samuel, who's the third point guard behind Napier and junior Ryan Boatright.
On the other hand, it will be difficult to keep the active 7-0 Brimah off the court.
"Energy is contagious and when I put him in, he just changes the tempo of the game," Ollie said. "He's gives us that shot blocker that we didn't have last year. He's going to be a force. … Every day, he improves.
"…. The kid is going to be great if he keeps that passion about the game. He loves the game and you don't see a lot of people with that love for the game. I think he's going to be a force for us."
UConn's deep bench also includes freshman forward Kentan Facey, who didn't play in the opener but will likely make his debut tonight.
The reserves had a productive opening night, as five players combined for 31 points, a higher output than in any single game last season.
Yale also is coming off a strong opening game performance. The Bulldogs rallied from a 17-point second half deficit to beat Central Connecticut State University, 93-77, on Saturday. Their depth played a valuable role, as 10 players scored and 11 saw action overall. Sophomore Justin Sears had a career-best game, finishing with 26 points and 13 rebounds.
The Bulldogs are expected to be in the thick of the Ivy League race this season.
For the second straight game, UConn faces a team that led its league in rebound margin last season. The Huskies out-rebounded Maryland by three.
Location: XL Center, Hartford
Tip-off time: 3 p.m. (SNY)
Records: Yale 1-0, UConn 1-0
Last game: Yale defeated Central Connecticut, 93-77, Saturday; UConn beat Maryland, 78-77, Friday
Probable starters: UConn, 6-0 jr. guard Ryan Boatright (9 pts), 6-1 sr. guard Shabazz Napier (18 pts, 7 rebs, 7 assists), 6-5 so. guard Omar Calhoun (10 pts), 6-8 jr. forward DeAndre Daniels (8 pts), 6-10 so. center Phil Nolan (2 pts, 3 rebs)
Yale, 6-4 jr. guard Javier Duren (16 pts), 6-5 so. guard Nick Victor (6 pts), 6-6 jr. guard Armani Cotton (17 pts, 6 rebs), 6-6 jr. forward Brandon Sherrod (5 pts, 4 rebs), 6-8 so. forward Justin Sears (26 pts, 13 rebs)
Noteworthy, First meeting between teams since 2003 when top-ranked UConn rallied for a 70-60 win. Huskies lead series 43-22, winning 12 in a row. Last loss 77-75 (OT) in 1986. … Yale came back from a 17-point second half deficit against CCSU. Sears had career highs for points (26) and rebounds (13). … Picked third in Ivy League preseason media poll. … Big Bulldogs: 13 players on roster at 6-5 or taller. Led Ivy in rebounding last season. … Husky reserves had 31 points against Maryland, more than any game last season. Sr. Niels Giffey had 13 pts in 17 minutes. … Top reserve: 6-7 jr. forward Matt Townsend (8 pts, 4 rebs). … Player to watch: Daniels, who had only 8 pts and 2 rebs vs. Maryland. … Yale's Isaiah Salafia and Sherrod were teammates with UConn's Tyler Olander on a high school all-star team. … Next: UConn hosts Detroit Thursday at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs.
- Gavin Keefe