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Kevin Duffy: UConn must do better job on the boards

Updated 12:29 am, Friday, December 7, 2012
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Harvard at UConn men, tonight, 7 (SNY) LINE: UConn by 81„2
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STORRS -- It was a hot topic in October and it remains popular two months later: UConn, 6-2 and exceeding expectations, has had difficulty competing on the boards.

As Shabazz Napier conceded, if the Huskies were a better rebounding team, there's a good chance they'd be sitting at 7-1 with two victories over ranked opponents.

"(N.C. State forward) Richard Howell had all (10) of his rebounds in the second half," Napier said. "That tells you everything you need to know."

Unfortunately for Kevin Ollie and the Huskies, there is no magic rebounding potion. There's no supplement to make Tyler Olander grow three inches and no drill to help DeAndre Daniels gain 30 pounds. Improvement, as Niels Giffey said, is chiefly a matter of effort.

"It's 70/30," Giffey said. "You have to be honest with yourself that some of it is just hustle plays. And then 30 percent is in being in the weight room."

In their last game before a 10-day final exam layoff, the Huskies hope to control the glass against one of the few undersized opponents left on the schedule. Harvard, fresh off a thorough beating of Boston College, pays a visit to Gampel Pavilion tonight at 7.

UConn has used the same starting lineup -- Ryan Boatright, Napier, Omar Calhoun, Daniels and Olander -- for all eight games, but Ollie said there could be a change tonight, depending on the status of DeAndre Daniels (back).

Although Ollie would not name a replacement, it seems either Giffey or Enosch Wolf, who posted 12 points and a career-best nine rebounds against N.C. State, would be candidates.

"I'm not asking for 12 and nine (from Enosch) every night -- that's asking a lot, but we see he's capable of doing it," Ollie said. "Hopefully, he'll have some consistent nights and give us that anchor down low. He's 7-1; he's a big guy. That's what we need."

The Huskies also need a consistent third scorer, someone other than Napier or Boatright to give them dependable production. Against N.C. State, the backcourt duo attempted 34 of UConn's 64 shots. Together, they've reached double-figures 14 times while five other players have topped the 10-point plateau a combined nine times. Daniels, a versatile 6-foot-8 scorer, hasn't hit double-digits in five consecutive games and Olander has not posted 10 points or 10 rebounds in a single game.

"For us to win, we're going to have to do it as a team," Ollie said. "Our assist-to-turnover ratio I believe is 1/1 and that's not going to get it done in the Big East. Shooting 42 percent is not going to get it done in the Big East."

The key, Ollie said, starts on the glass: Rebounds turn into fast breaks, and the Huskies -- undersized but quick -- thrive in transition.

"Sometimes it feels like we're in a grind and in a struggle all the time," Ollie said. "Hopefully we can get rebounds, get out (on the break). That's when Boatright can be our best. That's when Niels Giffey can run and show his athleticism. If we're coming down playing set defenses all the time, it's going to be a struggle."

kduffy@newstimes.com; @KevinRDuffy