UConn readies for Louisville test
Updated 11:13 pm, Sunday, January 13, 2013
SOUTH BEND, IND -- In a 2011-12 season marred with low points, there was no game more lopsided, no moment more humiliating, than an early February rout on Louisville's home court.
UConn, in the midst of a freefall, was blasted by the Cardinals, 80-59, its worst regular season defeat since 2003. The Huskies once trailed by 30.
"I told the guys, if we're going to lose, we're going to go down swinging," UConn forward Alex Oriakhi said afterward. "And we just took a butt-whipping and we didn't fight back."
It's been less than a year since that squad hit rock-bottom, but many of the faces have changed. George Blaney, who served as head coach for that game, is now an assistant for Kevin Ollie. Oriakhi, Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond are gone. So, too, is the poor chemistry and lack of poise that plagued UConn a season ago.
The new-look Huskies, fresh off Saturday's 65-58 upset over No. 17 Notre Dame, face their stiffest challenge to date when Louisville, widely expected to be the top-ranked team in the national polls, visits the XL Center tonight at 7 p.m.
"They pressure the basketball, they have inside play, they have guard play," Ollie said Saturday. "We're going to go back and watch a lot of tape and the coaching staff is going to come up with a plan and our guys are going to execute it."
Previously ranked third, Louisville will likely jump to No. 1 after Duke and Michigan, the top two teams, were defeated this past weekend. The Cardinals (15-1, 3-0 Big East) have steamrolled through three lower-tier league opponents: They defeated Providence by 18, Seton Hall by 15 and, on Saturday, they held South Florida to 38 points.
Sophomore forward Chane Behanan returned to the lineup versus USF after missing the Seton Hall game with a high-ankle sprain. The 6-foot-6, 250-pounder collected 12 rebounds in the first half, more than the entire South Florida team. The Cardinals pair Behanan with 6-foot-11 junior Gorgui Dieng (9.6 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.2 blocks) to form one of the league's most imposing frontcourts.
UConn's tandem of Tyler Olander and DeAndre Daniels -- certainly undersized against Louisville -- has put together consecutive breakout games: Daniels went for a career-high 26 versus DePaul and followed up with eight points and nine rebounds, including a few down the stretch, in the second half against Notre Dame. Olander, of course, dominated the Irish, shooting 8-for-9 from the field for a career-best 16 points.
"No matter what we say to (Olander), no matter if we take him out of the starting lineup, he comes back the next practice and works his butt off," Ollie said. "I'm proud of him, and I'm proud of DeAndre Daniels and I'm just proud of how everybody battled."
Against Notre Dame, UConn's guard duo of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright thoroughly outplayed Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins. Next up is Louisville's twosome of Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, an early National Player of the Year candidate.
"It's going to be a tough one," Napier said. "We just have to come and execute our plays."
As Ollie noted, execution is key, but so is composure.
"We have to be determined to win and not get flustered when we have some turnovers and they get some layups," the first-year head coach said. "We can't get flustered. We have to stay with poise, encouragement and energy. I think we did that against DePaul and hopefully we see the same thing against Louisville because they have the same type of pressure."
Midway through Ollie's rookie season, which now includes two victories over ranked opponents, UConn hasn't yet appeared rattled.
"When teams make runs, we have a lot of experience coming from the leadership of me, Tyler and Shabazz," Boatright said. "We know how to keep the team composed and the coaches do too."