Huskies Shift Into New Gear

HARTFORD, Conn. – Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun is never at a loss for words in his postgame press conferences. He has an uncanny knack for providing instant analysis and evaluations. Quite often, there is a heavy dose of constructive criticism for his teams and players.

Sunday, after No. 9 UConn handled Holy Cross 77-40, Calhoun offered a sound bite that was rare and possibly historic when he said these words: "And this is why I'm so happy."

Happy? That word simply hasn't been used too often during Calhoun's 26 seasons at Calhoun – not even with the holidays around the corner. The Hall of Fame coach has had moments when he was more cold-hearted than Ebenezer Scrooge. Sunday wasn't one of those.

"He mentioned that he was pleased with the way we played; that's what he said," freshman center Andre Drummond said. "And don't be too happy because that's only one step and keep playing."

That's a little more like it.

Drummond provided one source of Calhoun's pleasure, scoring a career-high 24 points on 11 of 12 shooting from the floor. But Calhoun has never been about individual accomplishments. The thing that pleased him so much was the fact the Huskies took the XL Center floor and did all the things they had worked on in practice the last 10 days during final exams.

"We did exactly what we did in break, which is really work on our defense, and getting into the passing lanes," Calhoun said. "And we really worked on our fast break. I think they showed that today. We feel that, in some of the other games, we haven't been able to get up big on people, or really run people.

"Obviously we did that very, very well today. It was us; it wasn't Holy Cross. We just played very, very well."

The Huskies (9-1) looked enormous in this game, especially during an 18-0 run at the end of the first half. And the defense was outstanding in the second half, when Holy Cross (4-7) shot 17.6 percent and made only six baskets.

With Drummond getting eight rebounds and five blocks to go with those 24 points, he clearly was the star of the game. But Alex Oriakhi, who has struggled so much (perhaps because he had to learn how to play next to Drummond), scored 15 points in 20 minutes, giving the Huskies 39 of their points from the two big guys.

Oriakhi scored UConn's first four points of the game, on a dunk and a follow shot and his confidence almost visibly grew before the crowd of 13,396.

"It definitely helps," Oriakhi said. "We were able to get a few easy buckets. It definitely gives you confidence. You know you are going to have a good game when the guards are finding you. All you've got to do is relax and play."

Oriakhi was 6-for-8 from the floor as the two big men offset a poor shooting performance by Jeremy Lamb (4-for-16, 10 points) and led the way as UConn shot 50 percent from the floor. Shabazz Napier had 13 of UConn's 23 assists on 34 baskets and the Huskies committed only seven turnovers.

Calhoun didn't seem completely happy with UConn's ball movement early in the first half, but the Huskies shot 50 percent (18 of 36), had 10 assists on those 18 baskets and turned the ball over only three times. Napier had two of those turnovers but also had six of the assists.

"Early [Napier] wasn't getting us going," Calhoun said. "We had a meeting of the minds – and that's an interesting place, his mind and my mind. I mean, talk about confusion. But we needed to accelerate pace. I thought Ryan [Boatright] did and then Shabazz came in and just really got us going."

Seven UConn players scored in the first half, led by Drummond's 10 points. Oriakhi and Lamb each had eight points, despite the fact that Lamb was 3-for-12 from the field. R.J. Evans (15 points) did a good defensive job on Lamb early and the All-American guard missed his first four jump shots before scoring on a dunk with 11:08 left to give UConn a 15-13 lead.

Holy Cross pulled within 19-17 just past the midway point of the first half on a steal and basket by Justin Burrell. It was still a 25-21 game when Evans drove into the UConn defense and dunked with 6:38 left.

That is when the Huskies blew the game open. Their 18-0 run began with a three-pointer by Lamb with 6:16 left. Boatright put some energy into the crowd with a stunning move and reverse layup along the baseline. Lamb had another three. Drummond hit a nice turnaround jumper and the run ended on back-to-back baskets by DeAndre Daniels in the final two minutes.

Drummond has his share of powerful, exciting dunks. But he also showed a new phase of his game by hitting turnaround jumpers, pulling up for jump shots within the offense, and executing down low in a new offensive threat for the Huskies.

"He's big and athletic," Holy Cross coach Milan Brown said, "He made a couple of jump shots and post moves today that we definitely weren't expecting. He's a good player. At some point in time, if he keeps working, he's definitely going to have Jerry West [the NBA logo] on his jersey for sure."

Again, it all goes back to working in practice.

"One of the things I'm working on is trying to slow my game down a little bit so I can myself more comfortable and get the right hot up," Drummond said. "I try to show different things every day. I try to get better every single day. I don't have any room to step back, so I'm trying to work and get the most I can do out in one game."

Calhoun called it the biggest step Drummond has made this season.

"When I got on him Friday about not playing as well, he looked at me and said, ‘Coach, I'm saving it for Sunday,' " Calhoun said. "I told him, ‘We don't save anything around here. We get better on Friday to be better on Sunday.' Quite frankly, he was a lot better on Sunday than he was on Friday."

For that matter, so were the rest of the Huskies. And, for a change, on one Sunday afternoon in December, Calhoun couldn't find many negatives. He had to settle for being happy.

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