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Amida Brimah Providing A Solid Defensive Presence

NEW YORK, N.Y.—His stat line was unassuming, but down the stretch at the world’s most famous arena, Amida Brimah made a world of difference for the UConn Huskies.

Connecticut’s senior center finished Monday’s win over Syracuse at Madison Square Garden with two points, four rebounds and four blocks. But in a crucial nine-minute stretch which brought the Huskies back into the game, Brimah was at his best—barricading the rim from an onslaught of Orange attackers, swatting away doubters who believe that UConn has a limited ceiling on this season.

With 13:41 left to play, Andrew White knocked down a three to extend Syracuse’s lead to, 37-26. UConn was staring at another loss, perhaps even a big one, to a major rival in what has already been a disappointing season. The Huskies needed stops, and that’s when their defensive anchor dug in, ending the Orange run. Three of Brimah’s four blocks came in the closing 5:56 when UConn limited Syracuse to just six points.

Even when Brimah wasn’t sending shots away, he was altering shots. The senior’s effort forced the Orange to shoot off balance or change their intended trajectory in hopes of avoiding the 7-footers outstretched arms. When the final horn sounded, Syracuse walked off the court having made only one shot in the paint in the second half, shooting a measly 1-of-8 from the inside the lane.

“He had some really outstanding defensive plays for us later in the second half,” Kentan Facey said. “He was changing shots, blocking a couple shots and were able to come down, get rebounds and then convert on the other end. Those defensive plays by him were huge.”

Brimah’s success was certainly predicated on the defense of his teammates, hounding would-be Syracuse penetration and not allowing easy runs at the body of the big man.

Perimeter defenders staying in front gives the big man a better chance of coming over and altering a shooter’s rhythm. Brimah’s anticipation and timing was impeccable on Monday night, recognizing the perfect moments to leave his man to meet the ballcarrier.

Many times in past seasons Brimah has come to help too soon, creating easy dump off passes for the man Brimah left to go after a shot block. That wasn’t the case against Syracuse and hasn’t been for the majority of the year. The steps Brimah has made this year in better understanding nuances of rim protecting are impressive, at least enough to impress UConn’s all-time blocks leader.

“When you talk about blocked shots, there are only so many you can get,” said Husky legend Emeka Okafor, who was in attendance Monday. “They don’t necessarily keep track of altered shots or even just the thought [that a defender] is in the paint. In terms of being a presence, I think he did an excellent job.”

In a season full of disappointment, Brimah’s defense has been a bright spot. The 7-footer is averaging 3.3 blocks per game and is second in the nation in block percentage at 16.48 (a career high), according to KenPom.com.

The Huskies need to have a great showing in conference play to revive this season and overcome their slow start. Brimah’s shot-blocking ability is an advantage for UConn every time out, but especially in conference play.

Brimah is third on Connecticut’s all-time blocks list with 306 in 108 games played, trailing only Hasheem Thabeet (417) and Okafor (441). He won’t come close to catching those guys in the final 20 or so games of his career, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is a defensive weapon who opposing teams will have to worry about and game plan for.

Is that alone going to propel the Huskies on postseason run? Of course not—but it's a valuable edge nonetheless.

“No. 1 is just mindset—it is mindset and intimidation. Set yourself early and make sure they know you are there,” Okafor said.