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It sounds strange to put an early January game in the must win category.
But the Huskies did just that.
Coming off two straight losses, they badly needed to break out of their funk and beat a quality Harvard team.
They accomplished their mission, holding on for a 61-56 victory in their last non-conference game this season.
The victory washed out the sour taste from consecutive road losses to Houston and Southern Methodist in American Athletic Conference play. Harvard (13-2) had won nine straight.
“We needed this win very bad…,” junior DeAndre Daniels said. “Everyone on this team is competitive and nobody wants to lose. With those two losses in a row, definitely in the second one (against SMU), we had a lot of people sad. People had tears in the locker room.
“Everybody on the team wanted to win. It was a must win for us.”
Here’s a post-game breakdown and video:
-- Check out the attached video of coach Kevin Ollie’s press conference.
-- Offensively, it was an ugly game. Neither team shot the ball well – UConn 40 percent and Harvard 35.7. The twoNew Englandprograms combined for 29 turnovers.
The Huskies had a clear edge at the foul line, sinking 17 of 25. The Crimson went 7-for-10.
“It wasn’t the best offensive game, but that doesn’t matter,” Ollie said. “We got a win. Now we’re focused on UCF and we’re going to try to get our first American win.”
UConn (12-3, 0-2) hosts Central Florida on Saturday inStorrs.
-- UConn got a break when Harvard leading scorer Wesley Saunders sat out the game with a sprained knee. Brandyn Curry replaced Saunders, converting only 2-of-12 shots and scoring seven points. He also threw the ball away in the closing seconds with his team trailing by three points.
-- Graduate student Lasan Kromah played well in his first start, finishing with nine points, five rebounds, three assists and three turnovers in a season-high 34 minutes.
“I’ve definitely felt more comfortable,” Kromah said. “I’ve had a chance to be out there more, showcase what I can do, and really help the team out in more areas – rebounds, assists and everything.”
-- Senior Shabazz Napier came alive in the second half, scoring 13 of his team-high 18 points. He buried consecutive 3-pointers to give UConn a 55-47 with one minute, 30 seconds remaining.
But he also fouled Laurent Rivard who made a 3-pointer and then hit the free throw to cap a four-point play with 35 seconds remaining.
He finished with seven rebounds, four assists, four turnovers and two steals in 39 minutes.
-- For just the sixth time this season, UConn won the rebounding battle. The Huskies held a 36-34 edge. They’ve 6-0 when out-rebounding an opponent.
-- Another key: UConn took better care of the ball in the second half, committing only four turnovers. The Huskies had 11 in the first half.
-- Daniels stated before the season started that he wanted to average double figures in rebounds. He tied a season-high with eight rebounds on Wednesday to increase his season average to 4.8 per game.
“DeAndre has to be a big rebounder for us,” Ollie said. “Eight rebounds should be his minimum. … He can do it once he focuses on it.”
Daniels also had 11 points and a career-high tying four blocks in 33 minutes.
-- Ollie praised the play of freshman center Amida Brimah. Before fouling out in only 15 minutes of play, he had three blocks and four rebounds and was a defensive pest under the basket.
On the season, Brimah has 37 fouls, 37 points and 31 rebounds.
-- Sophomore Omar Calhoun looks lost on the court. He played a career-low five minutes and didn’t attempt a shot from the field or free throw line. It is the second time in three games that he has failed to score.
This is the same guy who averaged 11 points last season and made the All-Big East rookie team.
-- Junior Ryan Boatright (14 points) has scored in double figures in a season-high five straight games.
-- Napier on the win: “We really just needed to get back on track in the sense of playing the way we usually play.”
-- UConn won for the first time this season when behind at half, rallying from a 31-26 deficit. The Huskies have trailed just one other time – 46-28 at Houston on Dec. 31. They lost, 75-71.
-- The Huskies received a season-low four points from their bench. Senior Niels Giffey had all four points.
-- Ollie likes the way UConn responded to adversity on Wednesday. The Huskies kept playing hard even when they struggled.
“Our recovery is getting better,” Ollie said. “Down in Houston, we couldn’t recover in a couple of instances, but we recovered tonight.”
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.