Huskies take care of business against UCF on Senior Day.
STORRS – UConn didn’t win anything Sunday. But the day was never about winning, it was about not losing.
Beating the University of Central Florida, which the Huskies did, 67-46 in front of a full house at Gampel Pavilion on Senior Day, did nothing to improve what is believed to be its precarious situation concerning the NCAA Tournament.
Simply put, UCF isn’t very good at 12-17, 6-12 in the AAC. The Huskies smacked the Knights around in the first meeting, 67-41, so this wasn’t exactly a resume builder. But lose and the Huskies (21-10, 11-7) probably would have needed to win the AAC Tournament to get the coveted bid.
So far now the bleeding is stopped. The hemorrhaging created with two bad loses in both results and performance to Houston and SMU has been stemmed. How much Sunday helped, who knows. But it didn’t hurt, that is a given.
“We’ve had some ups and downs but we have some great wins and you know hopefully that everybody that is making decisions out see the quality wins that we do have,” said Huskies coach Kevin Ollie. The Huskies fate will be determined in the AAC Tournament which starts Friday against Cincinnati, a team they lost twice to. The Bearcats upset SMU Sunday to pad their resume a bit more.
The recent funk perpetuated through much of the first half. It was 8-0 before the Huskies got on the board on an Amida Brimah dunk. At one point the two teams missed 13 straight shots. Compounding matters was Daniel Hamilton.
An irritated Ollie yanked the 6-foot-7 sophomore after a third turnover and Hamilton played just four minutes in the first half with no points.
“I just had to settle down and get myself going. I came out kind of flat, kind of stiff. Then the second half I got benched and once he put my back in I was ready to play,” said Hamilton.
UConn trailed, 16-5 before finally taking a 17-6 advantage on a Rodney Purvis jumper. The basket began a run of nine straight points for 24-16 lead before UCF broke a stretch lasting 7:03 without a hoop.
Despite the presence of 7-foot-6 freshman Tacko Fall (13 points), the Knights treated the basket like the plague much of the first half shooting just 9-of-29. Yet, the lead for UConn was just a half dozen, 30-24, at the break.
However the Knights had had their chance. A rejuvenated Hamilton fired in all 12 of his points in the second half and UConn slowly pulled away. With the score, 37-31, Omar Calhoun hit a couple of free throws and Jalen Adams fed Brimah for an authoritative slam and a 41-31 lead.
Fall responded with a basket but Hamilton drained a 3-pointer and two free throws for a 46-33 lead. Two free throws from Shonn Miller and another basket from Hamilton up the edge to 50-35.
“(Daniel) responded the right way,” said Ollie. “He came on and played wonderfully great and it started on the defensive end. I wanted Rodney (Purvis) to come there and just get Daniel to focus. When he plays defense it allows his offense to be better. We put a couple of plays in there for him to get him going and then he got himself going. “
The Huskies defense limited UCF to just 35 percent for the game while the offense got revved up.
“We were just playing hard,” said Ollie. “I thought our pick and roll defense was great. People have been putting us in a lot of pick and rolls and we haven’t been covering them to the best of our ability. Playing with that relentless effort. I thought we did a really great job today. We really showed out on pick and rolls and squeezed the paint. They had four 3-pointers in the first half and just one in the second half.”
The lead hit a high of 65-41 on a Kentan Facey dunk very late as the Huskies closed things out.
The NCAA bid will be determined soon but UCF Coach Donnie Jones thinks enough convincing has done.
“Without question I think UConn is a tournament team,” said Walsh. “Obviously they have senior experience, any time you bring in 5th-year seniors and they have three of them, it takes a little time from a chemistry standpoint. But they’ve shown with some of the wins they have Texas, Georgetown and some of the teams outside the league that they can play with any team in the country.”
You get the idea that the Huskies matchup with Cincinnati is rather large in the big picture.