UConn rolls over Concordia in final exhibition
HARTFORD – The wait for the UConn men’s basketball team is finally over.
The Huskies, who were on probation last season and ineligible for the Big East and NCAA Tournaments, will play their first meaningful game since the 2011-12 season Friday night in Brooklyn against Maryland.
The final rehearsal took place Monday as UConn, in its last preseason game, predictably rolled over Division III Concordia, 98-38, at the XL Center.
While evaluating a team in a mismatch of this nature is tough, UConn head coach Kevin Ollie was pleased with his team’s effort and progress.
“We played a complete game with spirit,” Ollie said. “We didn’t look at the opposition, we looked at ourselves. We now have two days (of practice) to get ready for Brooklyn and we’re excited about this.”
Despite the lack of competition, Ollie saw this contest as an opportunity to get his bench extensive playing time in a game-situation.
Freshman guard Terrence Samuel played a team-high 28 minutes and recorded an impressive 10 points and 12 assists, while Omar Calhoun scored a game-high 16 points with four three-pointers. Reserves Leon Tolksdorf and Lasan Kromah scored nine points apiece.
No starter played more than 18 minutes with Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright combining for only nine points.
“We’re getting better as a team,” Ollie said. “I was disappointed in our transition play in the last game (against Southern Connecticut State University), but tonight was a big movement in the right direction."
Even though tickets were heavily discounted at $5.00 a seat, only a crowd of 5,504 took in this affair. You could hardly blame those who stayed away.
Concordia, wearing eye-blinding neon-yellow jerseys, won only four games in Division III last season and have just one player over 6-foot-4. Not surprisingly, they were dominated on the boards by a rebound-challenged UConn team, 49-26, and shot just 10-of-48 from the field.
Now, UConn's focus is fully dedicated to the regular season, one that will actually mean something. Finally.
“We’re definitely excited,” Calhoun said. “We went through a lot last year and it was tough not being able to play for a championship. This is a clean start and we’re focused on the road to Dallas (site of this season’s Final Four).”
Ollie and Concordia head coach Tyler Jones have a history as it was Jones who drafted Ollie when he was General Manager of the CBA’s Connecticut Pride. The two helped lead the Pride to the 1999 CBA championship, a run that helped catapult Ollie’s NBA career.
“There’s no question I saw this in him,” Jones said. “When we drafted him, you could see his passion to be good. I spent a lot of time in the gym rebounding balls for Kevin. He appreciates how hard it was to get where he has been.”
Ollie credits Jones for opening the door to his career.
“Tyler has always had my back,” Ollie said. “In my rookie year, there were a lot of people who said I couldn’t play and there were rumors that I’d get cut. He had faith in me and he is a great man. If I got cut, I probably would not have made the NBA. He stuck through my growing pains as a rookie.”
CRAZY STAT ALERT
UConn has now won 40 straight exhibition games dating back to 1993 when it lost to Marathon Oil at Gampel Pavilion.