SMU's Brown knows he'll see a different UConn team Sunday

You'd think that Southern Methodist University coach Larry Brown would draw on his game plan from the last meeting with UConn to prepare for Sunday's rematch.

But that's not the case.

Since SMU's 74-65 win on Jan. 4 in Dallas, both teams have experienced growth spurts and moved into contention for NCAA tournament berths.

"I don't think there's anything I can look back on and say it's going to be helpful," Brown said during Friday's conference call. "I don't think they played their best."

SMU won't have an enthusiastic home crowd on its side Sunday afternoon (2 p.m.) at Gampel Pavilion like it did in the first meeting.

The Mustangs (21-6, 10-4) have ridden a strong home court advantage to a surprising third place in the American Athletic Conference standings. They've won 21 games for the first time since the 1999-2000 season and also won over the hearts of their college community. Both remaining home games are already sold out.

After handing then No. 7 Cincinnati its only AAC loss on Feb. 8, they earned their first top 25 ranking (No. 23) since the 1984-85 season. A loss to Temple knocked them out of the Associated Press poll.

"With the attention we're getting, there's a lot of responsibility now because of that," Brown said. "I don't know if we understand that yet. Some of the kids do. We're a real young team.

"It's great to see the atmosphere in Moody (Coliseum) and the support we're getting around the campus and nationally. Again, all of this is a growing process for us."

The 21st-ranked Huskies (21-5, 9-4) also are on the rise, winning 10 of 12 since that defeat. They're coming off a 68-55 win at Temple on Thursday.

Brown isn't looking forward to coaching against Kevin Ollie, whom he coached for two seasons (1999-2001) on the Philadelphia 76ers, or facing the Huskies.

"I don't like coaching against UConn because of Kevin," Brown said. "I think they're playing better. ... After watching them and looking at some of their scores, it's pretty amazing the way they've turned things around."

Brown, a Hall of Fame coach, is particularly impressed with the development of UConn's young frontcourt.

Sophomore Phil Nolan and freshmen Amida Brimah and Kentan Facey were basically a non-factor in the loss to SMU, combining for just six points and four rebounds. Brimah did block five shots.

"The big guys have gotten so much better," Brown said. "The job they've done developing depth in the frontcourt has been incredible to me.

"They're a much deeper team than when we played them, which has helped."

Count Brown as a member of the Shabazz Napier fan club. The AAC player-of-the-year race will likely come down to Napier, Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick and Louisville's Russ Smith.

Napier is attempting to become the first UConn player to lead the team in scoring, rebounding and assists. He's first in all three categories at 17.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.5 assists.

"I can't imagine anybody on any team that has more of a positive effect on his team than Napier does on Connecticut...," Brown said.

"When you have maybe the best player in the country, you have a chance to do great things. I think they have a kid who I think is as good as anybody in the country."

"And they respond to Kevin. If you're going to put a team together and if you could have 12 Kevin Ollies, you're going to be successful. I think they reflect the way he is, the way they play."

g.keefe@theday.com

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