HARTFORD, Conn. – Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie gave his team specific orders after a 61-53 victory over New Hampshire Thursday night. Then he shared the sentiment with the media.
"No pity party," Ollie said.
This was a tough night in the XL Center – and that's being kind. UConn shot 36.8 percent overall and hit only 1 of 14 three-point shots. The Huskies had as many turnovers as they had assists (13) and shot 66.7 percent from the free-throw line. Guard Shabazz Napier scored only five points and forward Tyler Olander (8 points, 4 rebounds) was limited to 16 minutes because of foul trouble.
The crowd was small (8,705), there was no energy in the stands and very little on the floor. In that regard, the playing conditions could not have been worse unless the game had been on the deck of an aircraft carrier with snow covering the court. For a program that has won three national championships, this was no home court advantage. The Wildcats dodged a bullet there.
The saving grace on this night was the fact New Hampshire shot even worse than UConn (30.6 percent from the floor and 57.1 percent from the line).
And the bottom line is that UConn's record now is 6-1. Ollie, fighting for a season and fighting for his job, can't dwell on what happened Thursday. He has to keep working to prepare this team for Big East Conference battles. And as long as the record is better than expected, no one is going to sit around, reflecting on a poor performance.
Drop this one in the win column. Do not look in the rearview mirror.
"Our guys didn't perform the way we wanted to perform, but we found a way to win," Ollie said. "Going one for 14 from the three-point line, and the different things we did in the course of the game – 13 turnovers to a team that wasn't really pressuring us – is something that we've got to cut down on.
"I'm not going to have a pity party, because that's not who I am. We had a good win and I'm not going to apologize for it."
Ryan Boatright led UConn with 19 points. He was 0-for-4 from three-point range but 5-for-6 on two-pointers and 9 of 11 from the free throw line. He also had four assists, no fouls and just one turnover in 36 minutes. Boatright joined with freshman guard Omar Calhoun (16 points) to take control for UConn Together they were 17 of 22 from the line.
"We're critical of ourselves," Boatright said. "We knew we weren't playing as well as we should. We weren't hitting shots, we were letting them hit easy layups, rebounds and second-chance points.
"We could've played a lot better and we should beat that team by more than what we beat them by. But like I said a win is a win. They really should have beat us, they just didn't hit shots like we didn't."
Actually, the Wildcats didn't have any second-chance points. They missed so many shots, they also clunked shots after grabbing 11 offensive rebounds. UConn's primary concern has been rebounding and the Huskies prevailed on the boards 43-40 but that's a small margin against a team from a lesser conference.
New Hampshire's first-half shooting performance might have been among the all-time worst ever recorded in the XL Center. The Wildcats were 8-for-34 from the field (23.5 percent) and that included a 1-for-11 showing (9.1 percent) from three-point range. Their free-throw percentage was best of all at 33.3 (1-for-3).
With that in mind, the Huskies should have run away by halftime, right? They should have, but they didn't. UConn led 25-18 at halftime because the Huskies only shot 31 percent (9-for-29) and that included the abysmal 0-for-7 performance from three-point range. The Huskies were 7-for-13 from the line.
"Our free throw shooting has been great," Ollie said. "In the first half we missed six and those were momentum killers. When we get to the free throw line, we're supposed to convert them."
UConn never led in this game but in the second half there was that feeling that things could end the wrong way for the Huskies. They led by 10 at 36-26 when Boatright hit a jumper with 12:38 left. But the lead was only 44-40 after Chris Pelcher (16 points, 12 rebounds) hit a free throw with 7:12 left.
Ferg Myrick (20 points) was not afflicted with the three-point shooting virus everyone else seemed to catch. He was 3-for-6 beyond the arc and hit one with 6:10 left to cut UConn's lead to three. But the Huskies never could put the Wildcats away. The lead went back to 10 on a jumper by Calhoun but New Hampshire closed the gap to four again with 36 seconds left.
"We were just a little out of it offensively," Calhoun said. "We were getting frustrated [offensively]. We just have to stay composed. Coach is telling us to keep our heads up, keep fighting and pushing.
The Wildcats were 6 of 13 on threes in the second half – and just 5-for-15 on two-pointers. That's how weird the night was for everyone.
|There were times when Bill Herrion just couldn't watch (US PRESSWIRE)|
New Hampshire coach Bill Herrion loved his team's effort.
"A team at our level, if you want to beat a team at this level, you need some guys to step up and make shots," Herrion said. "I thought we had a lot of good looks. We just didn't make that one or two shots you needed at the right time. I think we got fatigued. I rode our guys.
"I wanted to use the bench more and just couldn't get to it because you're in a game. It's a four-point game, five-point game, six-point game and you're on the sidelines saying, ‘We can win this.' "
Forward DeAndre Daniels said the Huskies must improve their shot selection.
"We never think negative," said Daniels, who had seven points and 10 rebounds. "We've got to stay positive, even though our offense wasn't going. Our defense won the game for us.
"If felt kind of weird out there with both teams shooting so bad. We're going to have nights like this. We've just got to play hard every game. [Ollie] wasn't really upset because we ended up with a W. But obviously we've got to play way harder than we are right now."
Ollie liked the defensive effort and rebounding (UConn won the boards 43-30). But there's plenty to work on, he said.
"We're going to continue to work and hopefully our offense gets better," Ollie said. "We'll get it together. But like I said, I'm not apologizing. I'm not having a pity party. I like being 6-1."