STORRS, Conn. - Although UConn led from start to finish in Friday night's 57-49 win over Harvard, the game was not without its anxious moments for the Husky faithful. The Huskies were much better at the beginning of the game and for a big stretch inside of ten minutes left, and that wound up making all the difference.
The Huskies got off to a fast start and made the Crimson look overmatched, as they scored the first 11 points and led 15-2. Harvard would rally and make it a ballgame before the first half was over, and in the second half the Crimson had several chances to tie or take the lead in the first eight minutes but came up empty every time.
This team has plenty of issues, as was expected before the season, but they're 7-2, including a win over Michigan State, as they head into a nine-day break for final exams.
Inside of ten minutes to go, Connecticut finally put some distance between themselves and the Crimson after Harvard had several chances to either tie or take the lead but came up empty each time. Leading 37-34, they ran off nine unanswered over a three-minute stretch and were never seriously threatened the rest of the way. Once they got a little momentum, it was like the first few minutes of the game all over again as Harvard looked like they had no chance of rallying.
What Went Right
DeAndre Daniels was always known as a talent, and last season shouldn't disabuse anyone of that. He was simply buried behind more experienced players and had to wait his turn. On Friday night, he had a new career high in points in the first half with 15 en route to a 23-point night on 9-12 shooting, and the hope is that this is just the beginning.
""We try to get it to him most of the time, because we know he can score," said point guard Shabazz Napier. "It's up to him to believe he can score. We want him to score, because when the Big East comes, we have to have that guaranteed slot for the next scorer."
Added head coach Kevin Ollie: "We're going to keep feeding him the basketball, we're going to keep putting him in positions to succeed, and hopefully this is a stepping stone."
Not only did he have a big night, but he did it while battling back spasms. In fact, Ollie said his back locked up during the first media timeout, but he continued to play.
Speaking of Napier, he didn't have a big night in the scoring column but did a masterful job of running the show with nine assists and one turnover while continuing to lead this team
What Went Wrong
For the first 30 minutes, only three Huskies got into the scoring column. This isn't a deep team, and one player who didn't score in that stretch was Napier, who did plenty to make up for that, but the Huskies still need more players to put the ball in the basket.
The Huskies were out-rebounded yet again, something that has happened in all but one game this season (New Hampshire is the only team not to out-rebound the Huskies). Enosch Wolf didn't have a rebound in 20 minutes, while Tyler Olander had just two in as many minutes. It's not just a matter of possessions, although that's part of it; it's also important because of how this team wants to score.
"When we get out in transition, we're a tough team to beat, but we have to get defensive rebounds so we can get out," said Ollie.
Related to that, the big men were uninspiring, as has been the case all season. Connecticut wasn't going to overwhelm many teams with its front line, but even by lowered expectations this group is not playing well and Friday night was part of that. Wolf wasn't a big factor, while Olander looked a lot better than on Tuesday night.
Harvard didn't really have anyone who could match up with Daniels, and the Huskies took full advantage of it for a lot of the game. Daniels started fast, and no one on Harvard could really match up with him from Wesley Saunders to Jonah Travis to Steve Moundou-Missi.
Three Stars of the Game
DeAndre Daniels - This was easy. Daniels carried them in the first half and some of the second, although he was on the bench for a lot of the decisive run.
Shabazz Napier - It wasn't his best shooting night, but he did a fine job of running the show all night long and had seven rebounds. He also saw early on that it was his job to run the show and get Daniels going, and he played to that mission.
Ryan Boatright - The sidekick to Napier made some acrobatic plays and added three assists with one turnover to his 16 points pm 7-11 shooting..