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Calhoun sees positives as the Huskies get started

Storrs - Jogging out during pre-game introductions Wednesday, freshman Tyler Olander looked a bit confused, and understandably so.

No one told Olander, the first UConn player out on the Gampel Pavilion floor, where to go. Freshman Jeremy Lamb followed next with an equally lost look.

"I had no idea what to do when they called my name first," Olander said. "After I slapped everybody's hands I didn't know where to go so I just stood there. … That was a little confusing."

This is a new world for Olander, Lamb and four other first-year players.

The young Huskies played well at times and looked a bit confused, too, as can be expected in their first exhibition game - a 96-58 rout of Division II American International College.

Junior Kemba Walker, who scored a game-high 25 points, handed out high marks to his freshmen teammates.

"Some of the young guys played well, better than I expected actually," Walker said. "Early on, they were probably a little bit nervous. They probably didn't know what shots to take. But, as the game went on, all their jitters went away.

"I'm impressed with them. I'm loving the way we executed in the second half."

Of course, coach Jim Calhoun saw more blemishes than beauty. But he understands his team is just beginning a long journey. He expects another step forward in Sunday's exhibition finale against Bridgeport in Hartford.

"I'm trying to look at everything as a 40-minute little trip… to watch this team grow," Calhoun said.

Wednesday's trip started well, as the Huskies bolted to a 22-point lead. Then they suffered a breakdown, allowing AIC to cut the deficit to 44-33 at halftime.

"Coach really wasn't happy with us at halftime," freshman Roscoe Smith said. "We weren't playing UConn basketball. Right after halftime, we started picking it up."

They regrouped and regained the tempo, dominating at both ends. Calhoun credited senior Donnell Beverly for speeding up the Huskies who went on a 17-3 spurt to take a 70-42 lead with 9:25 remaining. Seven different players scored during the run. Everyone but freshmen Michael Bradley made an appearance in the game.

UConn led by as many as 40 points. The Huskies shot the ball well from the foul line, converting 31-of-37, and committed only five turnovers. Senior Charles Okwandu had 12 points and a team-high seven rebounds off the bench. Shabazz Napier led the freshmen with 11 points.

There were some issues.

The Huskies held a slim 39-35 edge in rebounding against a team that had only one player as tall as 6-foot-6. They looked vulnerable inside and need work on sustaining their effort.

"The thing that we probably didn't do - and we did some things well - was keep our team motto, which is the hardest working team in America," Calhoun said. "Because AIC, for at least 20 minutes of the game, out-worked us."

Calhoun started Walker, freshman Lamb, sophomore Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, Olander and sophomore Alex Oriakhi. He racked up frequent substitution mileage while experimenting with different combinations.

The experimentation period will continue for a few months. But there's plenty to build on.

"It's going to be a fun year," Walker said.

g.keefe@theday.com

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