UConn finds a way to win
Hartford - UConn coach Kevin Ollie firmly believes in staying positive in any situation.
Even after a hound-dog ugly performance in a 61-53 win over New Hampshire on Thursday night at the XL Center.
"We found a way to win…," Ollie said. "I'm not going to have a pity party, because that's not who I am. We had a good win and I'm not going to apologize for it."
Good win might be stretching it a bit.
The Huskies got a win, period. And they improved to 6-1 overall.
They never trailed but led by only single digits for most of the game, including by just four with 36 seconds remaining.
If not for the take-charge play of sophomore Ryan Boatright, the result might have been different. Boatright drove the Huskies to the finish line, scoring a season-high 19 points. Freshman Omar Calhoun chipped in career bests for points (16) and rebounds (8) in 38 minutes.
The Huskies struggled mightily offensively, shooting just 37 percent from the field, including 1-for-14 from the 3-point line, and 67 percent (18-for-27) from the free throw line.
"They really should have beat us," Boatright said. "They just didn't hit shots just like we didn't. But a win is a win."
New Hampshire misfired to the tune of 31 percent from the field.
Perhaps the biggest positive came in the rebounding department. For the first time all season, UConn won the battle of the boards, 43-40. Sophomore DeAndre Daniels had a career-best 10 boards.
"We were just boxing out and going to get the ball and wanting the ball more," Daniels said.
Of course, when you consider that the Wildcats (2-4) were out-rebounded by Holy Cross, New Jersey Institute of Technology and Bryant in their previous three games - all losses - UConn's board work isn't as impressive.
The Huskies did continue their trend of doing whatever it takes to win, and that means relying on a tenacious defense.
While UConn was missing everything from open layups to free throws, it clamped down on the defensive end. After taking a 25-18 lead at the half, the Huskies attempted to pull away. Junior Niels Giffey converted a medium range jumper - the first points by a UConn reserve in the game - for a 36-26 edge with 14:24 remaining.
But the Huskies couldn't shake their offensive funk. They had little inside presence, as junior Tyler Olander (8 points, 4 rebounds) battled foul trouble, playing only 16 minutes. He has yet to score in double figures this season. That's another growing concern.
Junior Shabazz Napier, who this season has thrived in the second half averaging 16 points after intermission, never had an offensive pulse, finishing with just five points on 2-for-9 shooting.
Credit the Wildcats for giving maximum effort. They cut the deficit to 46-43 on Ferg Myrick's 3-pointer with 6:10 left.
UConn answered with its best stretch of offense in the game, starting the possession before Myrick's basket. The Huskies scored on four of five trips. Boatright converted a nifty reverse layup and set up Enosch Wolf for a dunk for a 52-46 lead.
The advantage grew to 11 (57-46) before New Hampshire rallied once again, closing to within 57-53 with 36 seconds left. The Huskies hit four straight free throws to clinch the win.
The victory didn't exactly leave them feeling giddy.
"We still got the `W,' but it was a bad game," Daniels said. "We didn't shoot the ball well and they outhustled us on a lot of things. They worked harder than us."
Ollie now only has a few days to prepare UConn for a major challenge, facing No. 18 North Carolina State Tuesday in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York.
"We're just not that good to play this way and expect that we're just going to keep winning," Ollie said. "At the end of the day, we made enough plays. … This is going to be a growing point for us, and we're going to get better."
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