Huskies Overcome Sloppy Play

STORRS – Coach Jim Calhoun has grown tired of seeing freshman point guard Ryan Boatright in his street clothes and sitting on the Connecticut bench during games.

It's never a pleasant experience for Calhoun when the Huskies can't do things 100 percent, full speed, all out, while forcing their opponents into uncomfortable situations. And with Boatright sidelined by his eligibility review with the NCAA, No. 4 UConn is a far cry from the team Calhoun and his staff envisioned – even one month ago.

"We don't know when we will get Ryan back," Calhoun said after UConn (2-0) defeated Wagner 78-66 at Gampel Pavilion Monday night. That has been the update after two exhibition games and both regular season games the Huskies have played to this point.

"We do need him," Calhoun said. "We need another guy who can go by people."

Calhoun admitted those comments will likely be met with another e-mail warning in the morning, informing him that he should not be commenting on Boatright's situation. But that isn't likely to deter the Hall of Fame coach, who desperately wants to use the non-conference portion of the schedule to find the proper mix in the backcourt.

Against Wagner, that mixture clearly wasn't what the Huskies or Calhoun desire. UConn was sloppy on offense, committing 19 turnovers and dishing out only seven assists on 21 baskets. Point guard Shabazz Napier, bothered by a high fever that has been ravaging his body since Saturday, scored 21 points on 6-for-10 shooting from the field.

It was a very un-Shabazz kind of performance in terms of running the offense. Napier had six turnovers and one assist while playing 35 minutes and that forced shooting guard Jeremy Lamb (20 points, seven rebounds) to spend some time handling the ball.

There aren't many alternatives, especially against a Wagner (1-1) team that was determined to apply pressure, get physical with the big boys from the Big East and make the game a bit chippy.

"It was kind of crazy," Napier said. "During shoot around we were playing real good. I don't think I took a shot in shoot around. I had so many assists, I was thinking we would have a good game today.

"We got the win, but I feel as though we could do so much better."

It was a disjointed performance. Calhoun reverted back to prolonged rebounding drills over the weekend after Columbia grabbed 20 offensive rebounds against the Huskies in the opener. That helped UConn win the battle of the boards 42-24. Alex Oriakhi (8 points, 9 rebounds) and Andre Drummond (8 points, 5 rebounds) showed improvement. And Tyler Olander (7 points, 7 rebounds, team-high 4 assists) continued to be UConn's best big man.

"We're used to getting crushed on the boards," Wagner coach Dan Hurley said. "It's an acquired taste. Their guys are really big. We're young and physically immature. Seeing our guys every day, when you see guys the size of Drummond and Alex and Olander – and their wings – you just can't simulate that, against Princeton, or every day at practice."

Drummond who was scoreless and seemed lost at times in the season opener against Columbia, was extremely active in the first half. He played 11 minutes and had five points, five rebounds and two sensational blocks in succession that got the crowd fired up before halftime.

The big freshman continued to struggle a bit with his shooting, hitting only 3 of 8 shots from the field and going 2-for-5 from the free throw line. But when he finally got his first collegiate basket – on a short turnaround jumper in the lane with 16:47 left in the first half – it seemed to relax him.

"I got that first basket, I'm here now, let's keep it going," Drummond said with a laugh. "Move on, next play, let's go.

"I kind of slowed myself down a little from the first game. In the first game, I was thinking too much about what I was going to do and trying to make the perfect play."

Calhoun said he "loved the way" Drummond responded to criticism from the first game.

"He just killed everybody in practice yesterday, in the rebounding drills," Calhoun said. "The sky's the limit with him. When he gets a spark going, he can really make things happen. But it's going to take time."

Lamb and Shabazz combined for 24 of UConn's first half points as the Huskies took a 41-28 lead at the break. Oriakhi, who played only nine minutes in the first half, was more aggressive after halftime and the Huskies extended their lead to 18 points early.

But the Seahawks kept coming, trimming UConn's lead to 61-53 with 7:35 left. That's when the Huskies could have used Boatright. Napier was so weak from his fever that he thought he might faint. Lamb had to step away from his role as scorer and help the Huskies close things out.

"I don't know if there was much improvement [from the first game]," Lamb said. "The turnovers weren't good. I think we've just got to take better care of the ball. Shabazz told me he wasn't feeling well because of his fever. At times, I saw him tire and they were putting pressure on him, so a couple of times I just told him I'd take it."

It may take a while for this UConn team to find itself. Kemba Walker is gone from the national championship team. And Boatright is still wearing those street clothes, tempting Calhoun with the vital ingredient he wants to add to this year's recipe.

"We won it," Calhoun said. "We didn't play bad. We just need to have a total effort for 40 minutes and we really haven't done that.

"And, we need Ryan."

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