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Facing his ex-coach, Ollie says UConn's his only worry

Updated 4:21 pm, Sunday, November 18, 2012

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  • Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie reacts in the first half of an NCAA basketball game in Storrs, Conn., Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill) Photo: Jessica Hill, Associated Press / FR125654 AP

    Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie reacts in the first half of an NCAA basketball game in Storrs, Conn., Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

    Photo: Jessica Hill, Associated Press

 

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ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands -- Kevin Ollie isn't subscribing to jet-lag, and he's also unsubscribed to a story line in tonight's Paradise Jam semifinal: Quinnipiac, an emerging in-state team, is led by Tom Moore, an ex-UConn assistant who coached Ollie and at one time was considered the heir apparent to Jim Calhoun.

Ever since Ollie was appointed head coach on Sept. 12, he has downplayed -- sometimes straight-up dismissed -- side-stories that can detract from the actual game.

Tonight's semifinal, which tips at 9 p.m., is no exception.

"I'm not worrying about who's on the other side; I'm worrying about my team," Ollie said. "That's the only way I can do it. There are distractions all over the place -- contracts, this, that. I can't control it. I can't control what Quinnipiac is doing in their practice. I can't control (Quinnipiac assistant) Scott (Burrell). I can't control coach Moore."

This game, pitting a state power against a program looking to establish a stronger state and national identity, marks the second time Moore has faced his old school. The first, in December 2007, was Moore's ninth game at Quinnipiac. It ended in an 82-49 Huskies romp.

"It was a real awkward feeling playing coach Calhoun and playing all the kids that I had recruited," Moore said. "We felt more comfortable not continuing the series at that point."

Now, with Calhoun retired and Moore's recruits long gone, the fifth-year head coach views the Paradise Jam semifinal as a "great opportunity for Quinnipiac."

"It has huge implications for our alumni, students and fans that obviously have years and years of living in Connecticut and hearing all about UConn," Moore said. "We sort of treat this trip as a chance for us to grow our name nationally a little bit, and I think playing on national TV against a team like that will help. And all that stuff sounds great, but now the task is on us to play well."

Quinnipiac (2-1) enters the semis on the heels of a thrilling 98-92 overtime victory over Iona. Led by junior forward Ike Azotam, a former AAU teammate of Shabazz Napier's, the Bobcats controlled the paint against the Gaels, which really shouldn't be a surprise. Quinnipiac is ranked No. 1 nationally in offensive rebounds for the past two seasons (16.1 per game in 2010-11 and 16.7 per game in 2011-12) and No. 2 in total rebounds.

UConn, normally a stout interior team, has lost the battle of the backboards in each of its first three games.

"It always concerns me," Ollie said. "We've got to end possessions with a rebound. And that allows us to push the ball. We've got two great guards, we've got wings that can run, we've got DeAndre at the four and three who can beat probably any player down the court."

As they found out Friday, they also have a capable back-up in Enosch Wolf, who played within himself, made 6-of-7 field goal attempts and protected the rim with Tyler Olander in foul trouble.

"We didn't know what we were going to get from Enosch in a situation like that because in games he's been in, he hasn't really produced," Olander said. "But he really dominated down low (Friday)."

Aside from Wolf, reserves R.J. Evans and Niels Giffey played crucial roles in the 77-71 victory over Wake Forest. Ollie said "it will be a different guy every night," and so far he's been dead-on. Through three games, Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels and Evans have been the only consistently productive Huskies. Timely contributions from everyone else have helped move UConn to 3-0 and No. 23 in the national rankings, a spot few thought was attainable just a few weeks ago.

"We always thought we could be a great team," Boatright said. "We feel like we've opened our eyes to a lot of other people."

And Quinnipiac, which hasn't defeated a ranked team under Moore, knows it can do the same with an upset tonight.

"It's nothing but respect and good feelings (toward UConn)," Moore said. "It's a great opportunity for us as our program grows."

kduffy@newstimes.com; @KevinRDuffy