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January 17, 2014

Big Road Win

Turning Point

With 5:21 left in the game, Shaq Goodwin took advantage of Amida Brimah's having four fouls with an easy, and basically unguarded, turnaround jumper to tie the game 62-62. In a game with 13 lead changes and 3 ties, the last five minutes looked to be the same back and forth. That assumption would be wrong. From here on, the Huskies took over. Shabazz Napier hit a step back jumper from the left corner giving UConn the two-point edge. On the ensuing possession, Goodwin forced Brimah into his fifth foul, but was unable to convert on his first free throw, proving fatal. Including Napier's shot, UConn did not miss for the final five minutes, neither from the line nor the field. Transfer student, Lasan Kromah, scored on a turnaround jump shot after a few head fakes and blew by the Memphis defense, giving UConn a 70-63 lead. In typical UConn style, there were a couple turnovers and times that your heart was in your throat, but with Shabazz and DeAndre Daniels' big shooting night, UConn left its toughest road test so far with an 83-73 victory. Memphis is a notoriously tough team to beat in the FedExForum, so to add is on to their tournament resume and show this fortitude was an extremely important victory.

What Went Right

Over its last two games, UConn's interior defense and rebounding have been unlike what we have seen over the last year and a half. The big men are boxing out, grabbing boards, and showing aggression. UConn had its most effective game for offensive rebounding to date. Daniels, Brimah, and Niels Giffey each had rebounds that led to easy layups. Easy points are the best points and, following an offensive board, force the defense to send more players in to rebound and play closer to the hoop, rather than getting close on UConn's guards and not respecting the interior.

In my article on the SMU game, I discussed the standard UConn defense with aggressive guards leading opposing ball handlers off of the three-point line and into the paint, towards shot blockers. With the emergence of Brimah, this strategy has become significantly more effective. UConn only blocked 4 shots against Memphis, but altered many more down low. When Daniels plays top players, his best games come out. Goodwin is typically a monster down low, but he was neutralized by UConn's big men and kept uncomfortable throughout.

This game stayed very close throughout, but UConn outplayed Memphis. Memphis came into the game 333rd in the country in three-point field goal percentage. Even though Memphis shot well, this was part of the Husky game plan. Offensively, UConn played extremely well on its ball screens against man-to-man and zone defenses leading to many open shots. Memphis struggles against ball screen offenses (see their Cincinnati loss) and UConn took advantage.

One quick shoutout to Omar Calhoun. Calhoun has been in a terrible slump recently. He was benched and been receiving far fewer minutes. While he did not play in the second half, Omar came into the first half and, finally, watched the ball go through the hoop. Calhoun shot 3-4 and scored 7 points, more than his last four games combined.

What Went Wrong

Overall, UConn played a great game, but how do they stay consistently great. It appears that Brimah has a very bright future and Phil Nolan shows glimpses of strong offense and defense; however, the two must stay on the floor. You want and expect some fouls from big men, but fouls off the ball, in the post prior to entry passes, and over the back calls cannot happen as often as they are. UConn needs these minutes and not give the opportunity for tons of foul shots and easy buckets. While Tyler Olander played well, he is not effective at the Center position. When he can play his more natural 4, he is much better. This is only possible with strong play from Brimah and Nolan.

Decisive Matchup

UConn was supposed to be bullied upfront by Shaq Goodwin. It did not happen. Goodwin scored 10 points on 4-9 shooting, but only collected 2 rebounds. Conversely, Nolan and Brimah combined for 10 points and 6 rebounds on 5-8 shooting. Coming into the game, Goodwin averaged more points than Brimah, Nolan, and Olander combined. This was not nearly the case in Memphis.

Three Stars of the Game

1. Hello DeAndre Daniels! Daniels played incredibly well. His three-point shot was on, but what that really did was open up drives and post play. Daniels can be so effective, but sometimes he gets lost in games. Daniels scored 23 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, added 3 blocks, and took 2 steals. This is what we like to call a, "stat stuffer." Daniels strength and assertiveness down low was crucial. I asked for a third main scorer last week and if Daniels can show this aggression, he leads to more opportunities for everyone on the team.

2. Shabazz Napier is a sound basketball. He is a true point guard who makes his teammates better. Napier was a little cold from the floor in the first half, but still dished out six assists (and could have had more). Whenever UConn needs a bucket, he has tended to get them late in games. Still, his opportunities come from defenses needing to still guard UConn's other players. Napier only shot 1-8 from three, but made shots when it counted, leading to another double-double (17 points and 10 assists).

3. Phil Nolan/Amida Brimah nearly anyone could have been slotted here, but with the expectation of Shaq Goodwin's domination, these two need one of the most prestigious awards in sports, one of the three stars of the game.


Ryan Boatright
had a cousin killed three days before the game, but still played incredibly well. The stat sheet may not show it, but Boatright had a very strong outing and limited Joe Jackson throughout the game. Playing with a heavy heart, Boatright showed incredible grit.

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