An update on the UConn men and women's basketball campaigns as 2016 begins.
TORRINGTON: As we swing into 2016, both University of Connecticut basketball teams are playing well.
You would expect it from one (the women) and have to be pleased with the progress of the other (the men) as they both roll into conference play.
Kevin Ollie and the men are coming off a pair of important road wins, one over Texas, the next in their first AAC battle against Tulane.
After missing out on coming away with victories versus teams with high RPI rankings, Maryland in particular, the Huskies looked like they were following a pattern that hurt them a season ago when they were forced to try and win the AAC Tournament in order to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
Neither of those things happened and the Huskies went out of the NIT in the opening round.
Losses to Gonzaga and Syracuse in the Bahamas at Thanksgiving coupled with their loss to Maryland at Madison Square Garden had left the Huskies with very few quality RPI opportunities as they approached conference play.
A five game winning streak has changed that though, especially the win over Texas in their first true road game.
Leaving the Lone Star State with a 71-66 win was huge. Sure the Longhorns were without big man Cameron Ridley due to an injury but the Huskies have been and will be without their inside presence, Amida Brimah.
Having the adjust to losing one of the top shot blockers in the country has been no easy task but UConn has been up to the task so far.
They escaped New Orleans with a 75-67 win over Tulane on Saturday night after blowing a 19-point second half lead but had enough left in the tank to get the job done.
Rodney Purvis (15.6 ppg) has been the go-to guy at times this season while the continued emergence of sophomore Daniel Hamilton (13.5 ppg, 8.5 boards and 5.3 assists) as the catalyst for the offense has helped fans forget about last year’s team that so struggled to find an offense at times.
Fifth year senior Shonn Miller (12.9) and Sterling Gibbs (11.8) help give UConn four in double figures most nights.
The men return home this week as they host Temple (1-1, 6-6) at the XL Center on Tuesday and Memphis (1-0, 9-4) at Gampel on Saturday.
Taking care of business in front of the home faithful will be important for the overall picture the Huskies are painting, they are 7-0 when hosting so far.
….The best news for the UConn Huskies this week came on two fronts.
First, their 83-73 win in a Final Four rematch against Maryland on Monday night at MSG was a great test for the women as they were pushed to the wall by a determined and talented team that they will more than likely see again in April.
Second, the debut of red shirt sophomore Natalie Butler gave head coach Geno Auriemma and his staff another reason to be happy as the New Year began.
At 6’5”, Butler is an inside presence that the team has missed since Kiah Stokes graduated a year ago.
While it may take Butler a little while to get fully involved as she faces live competition for the first time in more than a year and a half, that hole in the middle of the Huskies defense may just have been plugged.
UConn destroyed Cincinnati by a 107-45 final in their AAC opener, not a great sign for the teams in the American.
The Huskies are home this week on Wednesday when they host Tulsa at the XL Center followed by road games against Houston and USF before finally returning to campus to take on Temple at Gampel on January 16.
The last time UConn played in Storrs was back on December 5 when they hosted Notre Dame.
UConn’s next test should come in a much anticipated showdown with South Carolina on the road on February 8.
Four players are averaging double digits in scoring, led by Breanna Stewart (22.2, 8 rebs), Morgan Tuck (15.4), Moriah Jefferson (13.2) and Kia Nurse (10.2).