Officially, the turning point of this game came in the last minute. With the score tied 58-58, Ryan Boatright went into isolation and drew a foul at the top of the key. At the line shooting one and one, he calmly sunk both free throws. On the ensuing possession, today's star, Tyler Olander stripped Jerian Grant, picked up the loose ball, and outlet passed out to Boatright who sealed the game with two more free throws and a two-possession lead. While this is when the tide turned on the scoreboard, it happened significantly earlier. The turning point happened with an influx of confidence from Olander. With 7:28 remaining in the first half, Olander fought around All-American candidate, Jack Cooley, and returned a DeAndre Daniels miss on the weak side for a put back tip in. This shot his confidence sky high. He changed the game for UConn as he trusted himself and gained the belief of his teammates. Tyler Olander's maturation and toughness were the turning point that led this team to a 65-58 victory on the road in a difficult environment of South Bend, Indiana.
What Went Right
UConn's rebounding issues have been well documented this season, but in the past two games, UConn has significantly outrebounded its opponent. UConn won the rebounding battle 30-22. Since Kevin Freeman's newly implemented "chamber drill," the Huskies have been focusing on putting a body on their opponents, getting position, and team rebounding rather than simply winning the individual matchups. If this team rebounds, they can beat anyone on the schedule.
In the second half, UConn was incredibly efficient offensively. Scoring 36 points in the half against a stingy Notre Dame defense, and a team that really slows the pace, is a testament of well-run offense. UConn only turned the ball over three times in the half and only allowed 6 defensive rebounds for Notre Dame in the half (one was off a missed free throw). This was tied for the second highest-scoring half allowed by Notre Dame this season.
Tyler Olander. Enough cannot be said about his play today. Jack Cooley is one of the best big men in the league and Olander played him incredibly well. While Cooley scored 14 points and had 9 rebounds, he was neutralized in a game that, on paper, he had a distinct advantage.
What Went Wrong
Omar Calhoun has struggled against top-flight competition. He is quick to shoot, which can be a blessing and a curse. Against the Irish, Calhoun appeared to try too hard, not letting the game come to him. He is still a work in progress, but gaining these experiences will help him as this season and his career continue.
Ryan Boatright made the key free throws at the end of the game, but he did not play his best game. He only shot 4-11 and committed 3 turnovers. He still made the key plays and had a crowd-silencing alley-oop slam after Cooley woke up the crowd with a put back slam.
The nearly even matchup, statistically, between the UConn and Notre Dame frontcourts was an enormous victory for UConn. After a silent first half, Daniels scored key points in the second half and, obviously, Olander was fantastic. Cooley worked incredibly hard for his points and rebounds. Not only was the on-ball defense from UConn's interior strong, but the star Notre Dame guards were unable to easily get into the paint. Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant were a combined 7-20 inside the arc.
Three Stars of the Game
1. Tyler Olander's play was the best of his UConn career. Since scoring the first two points in the 2011 NCAA championship and semifinal games, Olander has not made noise like this. He was assertive and aggressive. He showed an array of offensive weapons throughout. He scored rolling to the rim, on baby hooks, dribble driving, and jump shooting. His 16 points were a career-high.
2. Shabazz Napier is currently on fire. He must be feeling slighted by being left off the Bob Cousy award finalist list. With 19 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and only 1 turnover, Napier did it all for UConn. After a missed free throw by Olander with 17 seconds left, Napier hustled on the glass to knock the ball away from Cooley into the hands of Daniels for a game-sealing layup. Shabazz has continually been the team's best player this season.
3. DeAndre Daniels was silent in the first half. He shot 0-3 with a turnover and a foul in the beginning 20 minutes. After the break, Daniels showed. He led the team in rebounding with 9, scored 8 points, and added key strips and blocks late as Notre Dame drove to the hoop.
In its past 46 home games, Notre Dame is 44-2, with both losses coming at the hands of UConn…Notre Dame is the oldest team in the country.