Defense on UConn's mind heading into exhibition finale
Storrs — It didn't take long for freshman Juwan Durham to figure out the best way to earn playing time at UConn.
Coach Kevin Ollie drives home the message on a regular basis.
"He broke it down that simple," Durham explained. "(Ollie) said, 'Play defense, rebound and you will play.' He gave us answers to the test, so we'll take it."
UConn spent a great deal of time working on the defensive end this week while preparing for Saturday's exhibition finale against Division II Southern Connecticut (1 p.m., Gampel Pavilion).
The Huskies failed the subject in Sunday's 83-68 exhibition win over New Haven. Danny Upchurch torched UConn for 33 points.
The competitive energy picked up this week in practice, according to senior Rodney Purvis.
"Defense is a pride thing," Purvis said. "This past weekend when we played, there was no defense and there was no effort. We watched the tape, but it's definitely in our past. We shredded the tape up. I know I did. ... I never want to see that again. I definitely just want to learn from it. I know I'll be able to bring energy each and every game from here on out."
Southern Connecticut, which only lost by eight points in the last exhibition meeting in 2014, is certainly no pushover.
Coming off a 22-8 season that ended with a loss in the NCAA tournament, the Owls are ranked fourth in the preseason Division II poll. All-American guard Michael Mallory, who averaged 23 points per game, is one of nine returning players. Mallory is from Waterbury and attended Holy Cross and Marianapolis Prep.
"We're just going to have to really locate Mallory all around the floor," Ollie said. "He's got the green light. He shoots all over. I know he probably saw Upchurch give us 33 and he's probably licking his chops saying, 'I'm going to get the same thing.' That tape is out there.
"So I challenged our guys to come out and play with a little bit more intensity and take pride in the jersey that they put on."
Saturday's game will mark a homecoming for SCSU second-year coach Scott Burrell, a Hamden native, former UConn standout (1989-93) and ex-Husky teammate of Ollie. He was named the ECAC coach of the year last season.
"I'm happy what he's doing," Ollie said. "He's doing a great job there. He's got a really good team. So we're going to have to really come out and play aggressive. He's going to have those guys playing hard, playing with intensity. We saw what they did last year. They get up and down. A lot of one-on-one basketball, but they do have some great sets."
The Huskies have less than a week before opening the regular season next Friday against Wagner. The young freshmen class is still in the early developmental stage of their careers.
Durham, a 6-foot-11 forward, is making a comeback from a second knee surgery. He played only nine minutes against New Haven, finishing with three points and two rebounds.
"He's coming a long," Ollie said. "But he's not 100 percent yet. ... He shows some flashes each and every day. He can be a real, real good player for us down the road here and even starting now.
"I really don't have a minute plan for him. If the guys in front of him aren't playing any defense and he keeps working, he can probably get 30 minutes. I'm not going to hold him back. He's just got to compete each and every day."
Durham is encouraged by his progress and conditioning. He's still working to overcome the mental barrier. An ankle sprain last week set him back a bit.
"It's always going to be a hurdle, the mental barrier," Durham said. "I just feel like I just have to not worry about my knees and just go out and do everything else because I have way more to worry about than just my knees."
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