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Facey powers balanced UConn attack in rout of North Florida

Storrs — A smiling Kentan Facey left the Gampel Pavilion court to a standing ovation in the closing minute of a comfortable victory on Sunday afternoon.

It was a nice warm and fuzzy moment for Facey who's dealt with some hard times and heartache during his UConn basketball career.

Facey is in a happy place now and hoping to have more games like he had on Sunday in an 80-59 rout of North Florida.

A 6-foot-10 forward from Jamaica, he contributed a career high 20 points, nine rebounds and four blocks in UConn's most lopsided victory of the season. Prior to Sunday, the Huskies (5-5) hadn't led by more than 14 points in a game this season.

Facey's overcome his share of adversity, including the death of his father in 2015.

"It's been tough...," said Facey, who played in his 99th career game. "I had to wait my turn and keep working. If you just work through the hard times, it will turn around for you. ... I'm trying my best to stay positive. I'm just trying to excel in my role and do what I do best — rebounding, getting us some extra possessions, being aggressive offensively."

Facey was one of a season-best five Huskies to score double figures, joining freshman Christian Vital (13), sophomore Jalen Adams (13, 10 assists), senior Amida Brimah (11, six rebounds, four blocks) and redshirt senior Rodney Purvis (11). The Huskies never trailed after taking a 19-16 lead, went up 41-36 lead at the break and led by as many as 21.

Coach Kevin Ollie has seen a positive change in Facey this season.

"He's just playing with a clear mind," Ollie said. "He's in his best place ever mentally. Losing your Dad and things like that can take you kind of away from basketball and depressed a little bit. But he bounced back. He talked to the people that he loved around him.

"... He's playing with confidence. I believe in him. ... He's just doing a remarkable job. I just really tip my hat to him the way he's been playing mentally and physically out there on the basketball court."

The Huskies are a more lethal team when Facey, who entered the game averaging 4.0 points and 5.4 rebounds, is a factor. They dominated inside, scoring a season-high 40 points in the paint and leading to a 53.7 shooting percentage. They took care of the basketball, committing just 10 turnovers — only one in the second half — and limited North Florida (4-10) to 33.3 percent from the field.

"Defense really carried us...," Ollie said. "We executed really, really well. And our bigs pretty much dominated the game. We really wanted to focus on having balance. We took just nine 3-pointers so I know guys got the message."

They also neutralized North Florida star Dallas Moore, who finished with 18 points on 6-for-16 shooting after scoring 30 or more points in four of the previous five games. They swarmed to the senior guard.

"He wasn't going to do that to us today," said Vital, referring to Moore's hot streak. "And we were able to stop him."

It's no secret that UConn has struggled on the offensive end this season, averaging only 66.6 points per game. The Huskies played with the confidence of a high-wire performer on Sunday.

From the start, they worked the ball around, found good shots and finished plays. Facey, Brimah and reserve Steven Enoch (seven points, seven rebounds, four blocks) accounted for UConn's first 13 points. The first of two straight Vital 3-pointers pushed the Huskies in front for good. Adams hit a driving basket to cap a 21-9 run and increase the lead to 23-16.

UConn remained in command for the remainder of the game. North Florida briefly threatened, cutting the gap to 45-43 with 17:40 left. Facey answered inside, finishing off a nice move, and then made two free throws.

"I feel like I'm more relaxed on the court," Facey said. "I'm not thinking about the next play or the one that just happened, I'm just in the present and focusing and staying aggressive."

The Huskies gradually pulled away from there in their first game coming off an eight-day exam break. It was the most points they've scored against a Division I team since hitting 90 in a loss to Oklahoma State on Nov. 21.

"Our offense looked like a complete offense," Vital said. "Getting the ball inside, that's something that we've struggled with and we didn't really do before that actually wound up hurting us. Now we're seeing if we get the ball inside then everyone is going to be able to make a play."

Sunday's performance gives the Huskies a nice lift heading into Friday's game against Auburn in Hartford.

g.keefe@theday.com

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