Pre-game preview, video: Harvard

UConn never lost more than three straight games last season. And injuries played a factor in last year’s funk that came near the end of the season.

The Huskies will try to avoid matching that number tonight when they host Harvard at Gampel Pavilion. Game time is 7 p.m.

They are coming off consecutive road losses to Houston and SMU in American Athletic Conference play.

Here’s pre-game preview:

-- Check out the attached video of coach Kevin Ollie from Tuesday’s post-practice chat.

 -- Records: Harvard 13-1, UConn 11-3

 -- Last game: Harvard won at Rice, 69-54, Saturday; UConn lost at SMU, 74-65, Saturday

 -- Probable starters:

UConn, 6-0 jr. guard Ryan Boatright (12.8 pts, 3.8 assists), 6-1 sr. guard Shabazz Napier (16.0 pts, 5.8 assists, 6.4 rebs), 6-8 jr. forward DeAndre Daniels (12.9 pts, 4.6 rebs), 6-7 sr. forward Niels Giffey (8.5 pts, 3.1 rebs), 6-10 sr. forward Tyler Olander (2.3 pts, 1.4 rebs)

Harvard, 6-0 so. guard Siyani Chambers (11 pts, 5.1 assists), 6-5 jr. guard Wesley Saunders (15.7 pts, 5.3 rebs), 6-5 sr. guard Laurent Rivard (8.4 pts), 6-7 sr. forward Kyle Casey (11.9 pts, 6.3 rebs, 1.1 blks), 6-7 jr. forward Steve Moundou-Missi (9.1 pts, 5.9 rebs)


 -- Ollie on Harvard: “They’ve won three Ivy Leagues in a row and they’re picked to win the fourth won again this year. They’ve got some talent. They’ve got high major basketball players. They’ve got six starters.

"All those guys come in and play hard. (Coach Tommy) Amaker has been there for seven years and they know their system inside and out, and that’s a great benefit.”

 -- Harvard is off to its best start since the 1945-46 season and riding a nine-game winning streak.

-- Series: UConn leads 16-2, winning nine straight including 47-49 last season. Harvard’s last win came in 1972.

 -- Common foes: Boston University (UConn won 77-60, Harvard won 79-68 OT), Boston College (UConn won 72-70, Harvard won (73-58).

-- The Crimson’s only loss came at Colorado, 70-62, on Nov. 24.

 -- Harvard has a deep and balanced lineup. Seven players average at least 7.1 points per game.

 -- Player to watch: guard Wesley Saunders, an Ivy player of the year candidate.

He was named the conference’s player of the week for the third time this season on Monday. He ranks in the top 10 in the Ivy League in 10 different categories, including first in steals (2.4), second in assists (3.8) and fourth in scoring (15.7).

 -- Top reserve: 6-foot-6 junior forward Jonah Travis (7.1 pts, 4.7 rebs).

 -- Hot: Boatright has scored in double figures a season-high four straight games, averaging 16 points.

Cold: Daniels is shooting 34 percent (12-for-35) in last four games.

 -- Boatright has played well on the offensive end but his defense needs work, according to Ollie.

“He’s been shooting the ball great and getting some assists and letting the game slow down,” Ollie said. “What we need Ryan and the whole team to do is get better at playing defense. We can have all the offense that we want to but if we’re not playing defense and letting the opposing guards (impose) their will on us then it is all for naught.”

“… We want Ryan to get to where we’re stopping the opposing point guard and not letting him dictate the tempo. We want to dictate the tempo and hopefully we can start doing that.”

 -- Opposing teams are making it increasingly difficult for senior Niels Giffey to get open shots. That’s what happens when you shoot 67.8 percent from the field.

Giffey has attempted just five shots in the last two games. Ollie would like to see that number go up.

 “I’d like him to shoot 10 shots wide open,” Ollie said. "If I could diagram a play to do that, I’d definitely like to do that. But you’ve got scouting reports, too. … You’ve got to understand that. … We put in some different sets that can move the basketball and hopefully that works. Hopefully we can get more spacing and more penetrates and draw and kicks for Niels.”

With his offensive game mainly limited to taking jump shots, Giffey has to work even harder to find openings.

“I’ve definitely got to use screens better…,” Giffey said. “Guys like me and Lasan (Kromah) and Omar (Calhoun), we’re never going to be a guy who just breaks down a guy from the top of the key. It’s kind of like a team effort to get everybody back involved.”

 -- This is the final non-conference game for UConn, which is 11-1 against teams outside its conference this season.

 -- UConn has struggled defensively in the last two games, allowing an average of 74.5 points and a field goal percentage of 48 percent.

It will take discipline on defense to shut down Harvard.

“We want to stay solid… and have a tight shell,” Ollie said. “They’re going to test that.”

 -- Kromah on the team’s mood while dealing with a two-game losing streak: “It’s been good. We’ve been trying to make sure everybody stays together and make sure every day in practice we go hard and have each other’s back and don’t fall apart.”

-- For regular updates during tonight’s game, follow me on Twitter @GavinKeefe

Check back later tonight for a post-game breakdown and video.

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