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UConn rookie Boatright bringing passion

Storrs - Since becoming eligible last week, his mood has improved significantly, upgrading to bright and sunny.

The forecast is for better days ahead for freshman Ryan Boatright.

His six-game NCAA suspension for receiving improper benefits ended on Saturday. No more sitting on the bench and watching the Huskies play.

"(My mood) changed a lot just because I know that everything that I've been working for and everything I worked on all summer and preseason I can actually do that on the court and not have to sit there and watch my team be in a dogfight," Boatright said Friday. "You feel helpless when you just have to sit and watch."

Boatright will make his home debut today when No. 8 UConn (6-1) hosts Arkansas (5-1) in the Big East/SEC Challenge. Game time is 3:15 p.m. at the XL Center in Hartford.

He sparkled in his first game Saturday, sparking UConn to a 78-76 overtime win over Florida State in the Battle 4 Atlantis consolation game in the Bahamas. He scored 14 points and made three huge free throws with seven seconds left to force overtime. He also had three assists while playing 33 minutes.

This week he's practiced with more of a purpose knowing come game time he'll contribute.

"We're all happy for him," sophomore Jeremy Lamb said. "It's a weight lifted off of him. He's really focused and ready to move on."

The Huskies are a better team with Boatright who's generously listed at 6-feet. What he lacks in height, he makes up for with zip. He gives the team another ball-handler and penetrator.

Boatright can be a factor today against an Arkansas team that loves to create havoc and a fast tempo with pressure defense. The Razorbacks rely on a smaller lineup. They're also young and eager to prove themselves against the defending national champion.

"We're playing a Big East-type team," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "They're talented. They're quick. They're young. We've got to be ready for that."

Calhoun has more options now than he did when Boatright was out. He went to a three-guard lineup in the crucial stages of the Florida State game. With Boatright, sophomore Shabazz Napier and Lamb on the floor, UConn played its best basketball.

"We all can shoot," Lamb said. "We're all quick and we all can handle. So it puts pressure on the defense and makes them to have to really guard."

The addition of Boatright means that Napier and Lamb will finally get some rest during games. And he should help ease Calhoun's concerns about an unsettled rotation.

"He's very talented," Calhoun said. "Pound for pound, far and away he's the strongest kid on our team. He's a great athlete. He seems to have great vision. (Saturday's game) will be a good indication because he's going to be pressed full court a lot. He has a great deal of confidence and he does have enthusiasm."

Enthusiasm is lacking this year, according to Calhoun. Kemba Walker had an endless supply of enthusiasm that the team tapped into all last season. Without Walker, there's a void.

Calhoun also is concerned about overall consistency. The Huskies have been a bit careless, averaging 15.7 turnovers per game. Their foul shooting numbers are down, sinking 65.5 percent compared to 76.3 last season. Their defense could be stingier.

Roles are yet as defined as he'd like them to be.

"I would just hope that we would come together," Calhoun said. "We're just not fully connected yet. ... Not everybody truly has found their space, place, role. ... Inconsistency is the thing that we're fighting."

The good news is Calhoun believes UConn's problems are correctable.

Boatright is part of the solution. He's fearless. His competitive spirit is infectious. He's not worried about anything but helping his team win.

"He's not terribly insecure," Calhoun said. "He just plays. That's what I would like us to do."

g.keefe@theday.com

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