Sold out Gampel rocks as Huskies beat UCF, 67-60.
STORRS: To say the University of Connecticut Huskies needed a little bit of home cooking would be something of an understatement.
After not playing in front of their campus faithful since December 5 of last year against Yale (you remember, late three, heartbreak) coming back to Gampel Pavilion was just what the head coach ordered.
"It felt great to be back home," Kevin Ollie said, "The student section was jumping up and down, we felt the energy. Seemed like we hadn't played at home in a month and even longer since we played here."
The home team rode that energy and some hot three-point shooting to a 67-60 win over the University of Central Florida before a sold out crowd that was looking for something to cheer about from the outset.
The Huskies improve to 10-7, 3-2 in the AAC with the win while UCF falls to 9-9, 2-5 in conference.
UConn drained 10, first half three pointers as they threatened to run the Knights out of Storrs but the visitors crawled back into the game on a 13-3 run to end the first half down just six at 39-33.
"We had an 18-point lead with five minutes left in the half," head coach Kevin Ollie said. "and we just relaxed. We have to learn to that when we have a team down, we have to keep them down."
It's pretty well documented that the Huskies need to put together some kind of run in the American Athletic Conference if they want to have any chance to make the NCAA Tournament in March.
Thursday night was a start.
Consider these positives. Daniel Hamilton, one of the most talented yet frustrating freshman at times in the AAC, had perhaps his best overall game when his team needed it the most.
Hamilton scored 10 points, grabbed nine rebounds to lead the team and handed out seven assists from the three spot on the floor.
Add zero turnovers to his night and it made his teammates stand up and notice.
"That was great," Ryan Boatright said, "I told him, any time you can go out there and play the minutes and have no turnovers by taking care of the basketball like that, it's going to make his game a lot easier. I love how he can just get in the lane and pass the basketball. He and I shared seven assists and it just opens up the paint for everybody."
Hamilton's ability to get the ball inside on the lobs to Amida Brimah has been a strength of this team all season and against the Knights, it was on full display.
The Huskies came out aggressive, something Ollie had been looking for them to do and had seen it more of late.
"At the start of the game, I really liked our aggressiveness," Ollie said, "I thought we did a good job getting deflections and getting out on the break."
UCF came in as the team known for connecting on the three pointers but it was the home team that used a pair by Omar Calhoun and another by Hamilton to race out to an 11-5 lead.
After Calhoun nailed his first two long balls, he came up with an even more impressive blow by from the outside corner that resulted in a thunderous dunk that electrified the sold out audience.
Rodney Purvis did the same off a fast break that he adjusted on the fly when contested and threw down a thunderous dunk that he followed up with a muscle flex to a simply ecstatic student section.
Hamilton had his first assist on a lob to Brimah during the opening salvo and the three point barrage didn't end there as six of the Huskies first seven buckets came via the long ball.
When Boatright drained a fall-away three with 4:26 left in the half, the home team had doubled up the visitors by a 36-18 mark but, like some young teams tend to do, they let their foot off the pedal and the Knights worked their way back in it by the half.
In the second half, the Huskies tightened up on the defensive end, something that made Ollie understandably happy.
"I was proud of our guys in the second half," Ollie said, "To hold a team to 60 points when they were averaging 75 in the AAC is a pretty good job by our defense."
While they lost the overall rebounding edge by a 37-31 margin, the Huskies took care of the ball and made the most of their passes with 21 assists and just eight turnovers.
"Twenty one assists and eight turnovers," Ollie said, "I’ll take that ratio all day. That is, by far, our high in assists."
Early in the second half, the Huskies threatened to take care of business but five second half three pointers by UCF and a 5 for 12 free throw shooting adventure in the half kept the visitors in it.
"We've just got to understand that to win in big time environments, we've got to do a better job at the free throw line. That's one of our Achilles heal," Ollie said, "We’ve got to do a better job."
While the may have had a hard time putting the Knights away early, something that should come with time, they got it done and move on to play on Sunday against the other AAC Florida team, USF at the XL Center.
At this point, a win is a win is a win.