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Post-game breakdown, video: Eastern Washington

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: theday.com

Published December 28. 2013 9:00PM   Updated December 29. 2013 7:48AM

Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport hosted its first UConn basketball game on Saturday afternoon.

It took awhile for the Huskies to give the crowd of 9,274 something to really cheer about.

No. 15 UConn gradually pulled away in the second half to beat Eastern Washington, 82-65. The Huskies improved to 11-1 overall.

"I felt the energy from the crowd," coach Kevin Ollie said. "It was just a great family atmosphere. It took them awhile to really start cheering because we didn't really give them an opportunity."

Here's a post-game breakdown:

-- Check out the attached video of sophomore Omar Calhoun's post-game remarks.

-- UConn relied on a balanced attack, as five different players scored in double figures. Senior Shabazz Napier scored nine of his team-high 15 points in the second half while junior Ryan Boatright (14), senior Niels Giffey (13), Calhoun (12) and sophomore Phil Nolan (a career-high 11 points) all made contributions.

No one took more than 12 shots.

-- After UConn played its first home game at somewhere other than Hartford or Storrs for the first time since 1987, Ollie was asked about returning there next season.

"I wouldn't be opposed to it," Ollie said. "But I can't speak because I'm not the only one making decisions. I'm part of the decision. I wouldn't think twice if (athletic director) Warde (Manuel) said let's go play another game down in Bridgeport.

"It's a great atmosphere and we're 1-0. Coach (Jim Calhoun) lost at the (New Haven) Coliseum and he shut that down real quick."

UConn lost to Syracuse at New Haven Coliseum in 1987. The Huskies hadn't played at another in-state arena until Saturday.

Napier is in favor of returning to Bridgeport.

"It was great," Napier said. "I think we should definitely do it. For the excitement, they started flicking the lights at halftime which is cool. It got the crowd excited.

"There's a lot of things Bridgeport can do that XL (Center) and Gampel can't. But at the end of the day, I love Gampel. I'd rather play in Gampel every single game."

-- For the second straight game, Ollie made a change to the starting lineup. Giffey replaced slumping Calhoun who came in shooting 28 percent (10-for-36) in the previous five games.

Both Huskies played well.

Giffey finished with 13 points, four rebounds, a career-high three blocks and three steals in 30 minutes. Calhoun busted out of his funk, sinking 5-of-9 field goals including 2-of-4 from 3-point range. He also had a team-high tying six rebounds in 20 minutes.

It was the first time that Calhoun came off the bench in his career. He had started all 40 career games.

"I know I've been struggling in the last few games," Calhoun said. "I spoke to coach and he told me to keep challenging myself and keep working and that's what I've been doing.

"... I was able to play a little better today. I'm just going to keep doing the same things I did and hopefully I can keep getting better."

-- Nolan, a 6-foot-10 forward, has thrived in his role as a reserve the last two games. He had all of his 11 points in the second half and added six rebounds. He went 7-for-7 from the foul line.

"Phil was great," Ollie said. "He responded the right way."

Freshman Amida Brimah replaced Nolan in the starting lineup for the Washington game on Sunday. Brimah played just five minutes and had a block and two rebounds against Eastern Washington.

"Anybody can start on any given day," Nolan said. "I'm not looking at it as a negative. I'm just looking at it as a positive and I'm trying harder."

-- In three of the last four games, UConn has shot more free throws than 3-pointers. That's a good thing.

The Huskies made 25 of 27 free throws against Eastern Washington and took a season-low 10 3-pointers, sinking three.

-- Eastern Washington coach Jim Hayford: "UConn is a really, really good team. They make you take care of the basketball. They put pressure on you the whole team. They're very disciplined. … You're going to have to beat them. They're not going to beat themselves."

-- The Huskies out-rebounded an opponent for just the fifth time this season, holding a 39-36 edge.

They allowed 10 offensive rebounds in the first half but only six after that.

"That's a good victory for us," Ollie said.

-- In a nice touch, Chris Smith, Oliver Macklin and Mike McKay, three former Huskies from Bridgeport, were introduced during a timeout.

-- Former Husky R.J. Evans, a Norwich Free Academy graduate from Salem, attended the game with his father. Evans is home for the holiday break.

Evans is playing professional basketball in England, competing for the Durham Wildcats.

"It's going well," Evans said. "It's different."

Evans recently returned from a sprained MCL. He's averaged about 14 points in the last few games.

"I'm back in the groove now," Evans said.

He's also attending school in England. He'll undecided about what he will do once his season ends in late April.

-- The crowd of 9,274 set an arena record for a sporting event.

-- Congratulations to director of basketball operations Kevin Freeman and his wife Nicole who had a baby boy on Friday. Freeman missed Saturday's game.

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