UConn dismantles first place Tulsa in picking up crucial win
HARTFORD – It goes without saying that the first three minutes do not decide a basketball game.
However, that time can set the tone for the contest. UConn did just that with a blazing start against AAC-leading Tulsa on Thursday at the XL Center.
Daniel Hamilton nailed three-pointers on each of UConn's first two possessions. Terrence Samuel followed with a lay-up and Amida Brimah then hit an outside jumper (yes, an outside jumper) as the Huskies swarmed Tulsa in jumping out to a 10-0 lead before some of the 11,506 in attendance even found their seats.
UConn never relented and pummeled the Hurricane, 70-45, in, without question, its best performance of the season.
"UConn whipped us in every aspect of the game," lamented Tulsa coach Frank Haith.
In a season full of slow starts, the Huskies set the pace themselves and Tulsa, which entered the night 10-1 in league play, never recovered.
“This is the best start we've had since I’ve been here,” Hamilton said. “It was real fun for us to experience that start. This was a big confidence game we needed.”
“It’s a lot easier when you do not have to play catch-up,” added Ryan Boatright, who had another stellar game with 23 points, eight assists, five rebounds and only one turnover. “You can control the game, and control what defense they play. They like to sit back in a zone, but once we got up 10-0, they had to play man.”
UConn coach Kevin Ollie started a smaller lineup against a guard-heavy Tulsa team and the strategy provided immediate results. Boatright, Hamilton, Samuel, and Rodney Purvis (17 points) started along with Brimah (seven blocks) at center, and this lineup smothered the Hurricane into 31 percent shooting. The Hurricane’s leading scorer James Woodward, remarkably, was held without a point, missing all seven of his shots.
Quite a difference from the last time these teams met on Jan. 13 in Oklahoma. Woodward finished with a team-high 24 points that night in a 66-58 Tulsa win.
“To hold Woodard to zero points is just a marvelous job, not only by Terrence, who started on him, but by everybody who played him,” said Ollie, whose team has won three straight. "And holding (Shaquille) Harrison down, too, because he’s a great penetrator.”
Hamilton’s overall play, which included 11 points and 11 rebounds, symbolized this win for the Huskies, who, in addition to their strong defense, shot a sizzling 51 percent, including 63 percent in a second half in which they outscored Tulsa, 44-28.
“It was a great game by us – probably our most complete game from top to bottom, defensively and offensively,” Ollie said. “That’s a team that has been scoring in the high 60s and we held them to below 50. That’s a pretty good performance.”
UConn’s performance knocked Tulsa out of sole possession of first place in the AAC and into a tie with SMU. The Huskies’ next opponent? SMU in Dallas on Saturday night.
“(SMU) plays tremendous defense,” Boatright said. “They communicate very well. They’re very balanced and have great guards and have guys in the frontcourt that can produce. They’re a tough team.
“It’s back to the drawing board tomorrow," he continued. "We’re going to practice extremely hard, and keep doing what we’re doing.”
Even if they run the table and win each of their remaining seven regular season games, it will still be tough for the 14-9 Huskies to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Just look at SMU, which went 23-9 in the regular season last year and was left on the outside looking in by the committee.
UConn (7-4 in AAC play) has the ability, though, to sweep through this league and receive an automatic bid by winning the conference tournament. And it has the added advantage of the tournament being held at home in Hartford.
One look at Thursday’s game-tape and anyone will see that potential. You only need to see the first three minutes.