Following their worst half of the season, first loss of the season, and a cross-country flight, UConn came out incredibly flat, finding themselves down 14 points only 13 minutes into the game. From here, UConn's defense and rebounding began to step it up a notch. Led by Lasan Kromah, UConn went on a 26-8 run to end the half. Right out of the break, UConn scored the first six points, extending their lead to ten. The Huskies, who have let up leads numerous times this season, never let their foot off the gas, and did not allow Washington to even bring the game within six after this spurt. UConn closed the game out 82-70 for an important bounce back win in their first true road test of the year.
What Went Right
For UConn to win this game, they needed to stay competitive on the boards. Washington came into the game with a +4 rebounding differential on the season and a very good offensive rebounding rate. After a slow start on the glass, UConn's big men and guards held the paint to ultimately win the rebounding battle, 29-27. Washington is bigger and heavier than UConn up front, but UConn did not allow this advantage to help Washington on the court.
Against Stanford, UConn found itself settling for jump shots during their pathetic second half. In the Washington game, UConn made a concerted effort to get the ball into the paint, driving the basketball to the hoop, opening up close range shots and open kick outs. In the second half, UConn got itself into the bonus with 13:09 remaining. With the new foul rules and quick guards, UConn will be very dangerous when they are penetrating. A staple of UConn teams in the past has been its ability to put defensive pressure on the opposing team's best player -- thus, highly affecting a team's game plan. In tournament play, this becomes an incredible advantage (see Noah Vonleh in UConn's victory over Indiana).
What Went Wrong
In UConn's power conference games, we have not seen a forty minute effort. Maybe it was jet lag, tired legs, or still seething over the Stanford loss, but UConn looked awful to start the game. UConn missed its first six attempts from three, but none were good looks. UConn was beat up on the glass and a step slow on defense, leading Washington to open looks. UConn cannot allow these lapses in games. Against Stanford, it was the entire second half and led to a loss. Against Maryland, UConn blew a big second half lead, needing a stop to win a game where the Huskies thoroughly outplayed the opponent. Against BC, the same thing occurred. Top teams will take advantage of runs and not look back. If UConn wants to make a run in March, it will need to apply pressure on the offensive and defensive ends throughout the game.
One area where Washington appeared to hold a major advantage coming into this game was on the boards. UConn did an impeccable job of keeping the other Huskies off the glass. In a very team-oriented effort, UConn won the rebounding battle 29-27. No player had more six boards, but six players had three or more. UConn does not have a dominant man on the glass, so effort, hustle, and fundamentals will prove imperative as the conference season begins. UConn also had 12 offensive rebounds with three a piece from Phil Nolan and Amida Brimah.
Stars of the Game
1. Lasan Kromah was a menace on the defensive end and incredibly efficient on the offensive end. Kromah led the Huskies with five steals and added 14 points on 7-10 shooting. This was Kromah's best game as a Husky, by far. He continually drove to the lane, setting up close range shots. Defensively, Kromah was a pest. He was never beaten by his man and hounded the dribbler and passing lanes. Kromah also refused to inefficiently gamble and did not allow numbers going for steals. He has had a few times where hand checks were a problem this season, but he kept the fouls to two and did not extend the defensive pressure too far towards the midcourt line, forcing the offense to make a move. Do not be surprised if Kromah finds himself in the starting lineup for a struggling Omar Calhoun in the next game.
2. Ryan Boatright-Boatright had his most effective game of the season today. While he only had one assist, but four turnovers, Boatright managed the team and offensive throughout the game. He made numerous smart decisions and hit Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey, Kromah, and Phil Nolan on cuts to the hoop leading to foul shots, dribble drives and easy buckets. His 6-9 shooting was far above his season average of 37% and his most efficient game of the season. The number of assists is not always indicative of effective running of the offense. Boatright's stat line proved this against Washington. If he can keep himself out of holes and set up the team, the rest of the team will have more opportunities to see balanced attacks.
3. Shabazz Napier- While starting out quietly, Napier turned his game on in the second half. Napier scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half and only missed one field goal during that span. Napier's efficiency is so important to this team. He is the leader and the team looks to him for good shots. While he has been great from three this season, Napier can tend to settle. Today, he only attempted two 3-point attempts, setting the tone of getting into the lane. The team looks to him and when Napier settles, the team tends to, too.