A Look Back at 2014. Brimah's emergence highlights UConn's first AAC win
STORRS – Amida Brimah’s first 15 games as a collegiate saw the predictable ups and downs that someone with his skill set and experience usually have.
There were the defensive flashes of greatness, particularly against Maryland, Yale, SMU and Harvard. There was a promotion to the starting lineup and then a demotion back to the bench.
And, of course, there was the foul trouble - a lot of it.
UConn head coach Kevin Ollie, though, in desperate need of a frontcourt presence, continued to give the seven-foot Brimah opportunities in hopes he could eventually put it all together.
On Saturday night, in game No. 16, Brimah had his coming out party. It was even better than anyone could’ve expected.
The freshman recorded 20 points and eight rebounds (six offensive), both early career-highs, and also blocked five shots in the Huskies’ 84-61 victory over UCF at Gampel Pavilion, their first-ever American Athletic Conference win.
Those numbers weren’t even the most impressive. In his 20 minutes on the floor, UConn outscored the Knights by 37 points. Yes, 37 points.
“Amida had a terrific game,” Ollie said. “He works extremely hard, so whatever he gets, he earns.”
Ollie, in particular, was happy with Brimah’s attitude during his struggles.
“When he went in that little lull and he wasn’t getting a lot of playing time, he still came in and worked and had energy. The kid just loves life. He’s very grateful to be here on this basketball team. And those are the type of student-athletes I want, the guys who are grateful and willing to do anything for their teammates.
“When you have that heart, good things come back to you,” Ollie continued. “It was the basketball gods paying him back for what he brings to the team.”
After falling behind 6-0, Brimah came in and helped propel a 20-6 run. His first basket came off an aggressive offensive rebound. DeAndre Daniels (13 points) then penetrated the lane and fed him for a dunk. Brimah followed with two tip-ins for baskets.
The Huskies (13-3, 1-2 AAC) led 35-24 at the half and while UCF made a couple of runs in the second half, this one was hardly in doubt.
Brimah made sure of it with three dunks in the final six minutes, all coming off Shabazz Napier passes.
With one minute left, Brimah was taken out and received a standing ovation from the 9,561 in attendance.
“I (am) getting comfortable,” Brimah said. “I’ve been putting in extra work at the weight room. In practice, we’ve been working hard on feeding the post. It definitely helped us.”
While Brimah may be a little soft spoken with the media, his enthusiasm on the court and on the bench is hard to miss. Ollie says it’s contagious for the rest of his team, a point Napier agrees with.
“Amida is a high energy guy, no matter what the situation,” said Napier, who finished with 14 points, 11 assists and five rebounds. “He understands he’s a big spark for this team. Most big guys are quiet, but he is the opposite. He’s always excited and energized.”
As a result of that energy, the Huskies unexpectedly dominated the boards, finishing with a 50-34 advantage against a UCF team rated first in the AAC in rebounding. Daniels and Ryan Boatright added seven rebounds apiece and Phil Nolan had five. The Huskies also blocked 14 shots.
“In the two games we lost (in Texas), we lost because of rebounds,” Brimah said. “(Those games) would’ve ended better if we were able to, so we really focused on getting them tonight.”
Going forward, if Brimah can stay out of foul trouble, the minutes at center will be his to lose. UConn, simply, is a better team when he’s on the floor, both in the short- and long-term.
He made that very clear on Saturday.