Successful Debut

STORRS – With his debut as Connecticut men's basketball coach approaching, Kevin Ollie may have dreamed up several different scenarios in recent days. Most assuredly, the idea of the Huskies missing nine of their first 10 shots from the field wasn't among the options.

Still, Ollie was victorious as he moved into the seat of retired Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun Thursday night. The Huskies shot 50 percent from the field in the second half and overcame a 29-28 halftime deficit on the way to a 78-63 victory over American International before a disappointing crowd of 5,349 at Gampel Pavilion.

The new Calhoun in town, freshman guard Omar Calhoun, stole the show with 24 points, six rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal in 31 minutes. Ryan Boatright scored 14 points and Shabazz Napier contributed 11 points and six assists as the Huskies woke up at halftime and made Ollie's debut a success.

But it's clear there is a great deal to work on. And that came as no surprise.

"When you go 1-for-9, I'm like, ‘Man, this might be my only time out here,' " Ollie said with a laugh. "But it worked out good. The guys paid attention. Then I had my captains – Shabazz, Tyler [Olander] and Boatright – they kept our group together.

"And then R.J. [Evans] came in. I've been praising R.J. and he's still that rock that I look to. He came in, he settled us in, and we started playing good basketball when he came in the game."

Evans finished with five points – all of them scored in 15 minutes of first-half action. But the transfer from Holy Cross was aggressive and took the ball to the hole. And that was something the Huskies hadn't done in the opening minutes.

"We just had to get the jitters out," said Boatright, who was 5-for-11 from the field. "We've got a young team, not a lot of experience. So the first couple of minutes everybody was just trying to do too much, too fast. We just had to slow down and play our game."

The Huskies were outrebounded 18-17 in the first half and had 10 turnovers to go with 37.9 percent shooting (11 of 29) from the floor.

UConn opened the game extremely stagnant on offense. The ball movement Ollie wanted to see was nonexistent and when the Huskies did get a shot, they missed and could not follow up on the offensive glass. At halftime, only four of UConn's rebounds were on the offensive end. DeAndre Daniels (8 points, 9 rebounds) led the Huskies with five rebounds in 15 minutes of the first half but all five came on the defensive end.

AIC, led by Ricky Hudson's 18 points, got plenty of open looks, especially early in the game and hit 11 of 27 shots (40.7). In the first four minutes of the game, the Yellow Jackets outrebounded UConn 6-2 and opened up a 6-2 lead as the Huskies hit just 1 of 7 shots.

But there was no foot stomping from the bench.

"The mistakes we made, we definitely would have heard about it in a different way than we heard about it from KO," Boatright said. "The fans would have gotten a show if we had played that way with Calhoun."

Ollie used the first timeout of his coaching career with 14:40 left in the first half after AIC opened up a 10-2 lead. The Yellow Jackets had their biggest lead at 12-2 with 14:19 left. When Napier countered with a basket at 13:34, it seemed to loosen up the Huskies a bit but they still trailed 23-14 after a dunk by David Campbell with 6:39 left.

Ollie said the Huskies played with "effort in spurts." If there had been no effort, he would have been more upset, he said.

"Just the ball movement," Ollie said, when asked how things improved in the second half. "They started making shots. I think Boatright started getting us going with his ball pressure. That's what we need and that's what we've been stressing. We've been together about three weeks and it's been about ball pressure. Some of the basic things we've been trying to stress and things we've been trying to teach they didn't execute right.

"I've got to go back and look at myself. They've got to go back and look at themselves in the mirror. We've got to come back to work and that's what it's all about. Nobody said it was going to be easy and it wasn't easy out there tonight."

It didn't hurt that Omar Calhoun made 7 of 10 shots in the second half. He scored just three points in the first half, but when the ball started going in it was clear he is a confident and talented young player with a big-time future with the Huskies.

"Omar played basketball," Ollie said. "He read his defender. He made shots and that's always a good thing. He just knows how to play basketball and he kept his composure."

Ollie told Calhoun to build on his success. He also told him to stay humble.

"I don't like the little gestures after the layups and showing off," Ollie said. "No, no. That's not who we are. He's going to learn that and he's going to get better. He's going to be a great player for this university."

Cahoun said the showboating won't happen any more.

"[Ollie] just said we don't do that here," Calhoun said. "I just got a little caught up in it. I made a strong move and flexed my muscles a little bit. He explained to me to just keep playing. That's what we do. I understood the message.

"It's in my nature. I'm a confident player and person. When I finish and do certain things, I make it known that I'm getting after it. That's how I keep my energy flowing."

A three-pointer by Olander (9 points, 8 rebounds) with 5:28 left started a 14-6 run by the Huskies to close the first half. When Napier hit a three with 8.6 left before halftime, the Huskies could go into the locker room trailing 29-28.

Then they really spread things out with a 16-0 run early in the second half that flipped a 33-30 lead for AIC into a 46-33 lead for UConn after a three-pointer by Boatright. Two free throws by Olander gave UConn its first lead with 17:27 to play.

"Coach [George] Blaney gave me a note saying, ‘Enjoy it,' " Ollie said. "I don't think I enjoyed it, but I did when I walked out [before the game]. It's just great to come back to your alma mater, a place where you played, and come back to coach.

"Coach Calhoun was sitting down there [on press row along the baseline], my AD [Warde Manuel] sitting down there, so there was a lot of pressure right there. But it worked out good.

"I want to establish our identity. It's not where we're at now, it's what we're going to become."

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