STORRS, Conn. – It's good to see that the spirit of détente remains alive within the Connecticut athletic department.
When the UConn women's staff approached the UConn men about swapping practice times at Gampel Pavilion on Thursday, coach Kevin Ollie was happy to oblige.
"We just wanted to get them off their feet a little bit," Ollie said of his players when asked about the practice that ended about 9:30 a.m. "But it was a good practice, good energy. Now they have the whole day just to relax a little bit. Actually, the women wanted to swap with us, so . . . we're trying to keep the peace around here, you know? That's a good thing."
UConn is 8-2 heading into the final two non-conference games on the schedule. Fordham (2-8) visits the XL Center in Hartford Friday night (7 p.m., SNY, UConn IMG Sports Radio Network). Then the Huskies will break for the holidays before Washington visits from the Pac-12 on Dec. 29 (7:30 p.m., XL Center).
"I know it's a load off these guys now because they don't have the obligations of studying and taking tests," Ollie said of his players. "Once you get your finals done, you get a little sigh of relief. But they know we can't sigh too much. We've got to continue to work. We've got a lot of great teams coming in here. . . . The Big East schedule is coming and the intensity is going to ramp up."
GASTON LEADS FORDHAM
Ollie said the Huskies expect Fordham to run a lot of pick-and-roll offense and UConn has been working on getting back in its transition defense. He hopes the Huskies don't pay attention to Fordham's 2-8 record.
"They've got some talented players," Ollie said. "If we let guys get in our gaps and take control of the middle of the paint, it's going to lead to breakdowns and we can't afford to have any breakdowns."
Senior forward Chris Gaston, a second-team All Atlantic-10 pick last year, is the top concern. After missing six games with a knee injury, Gaston returned to score 16 points and grab five rebounds Saturday in a 63-60 come-from-behind victory over Princeton.
Ollie says Gaston might have a shot at the NBA after his senior season. Gaston is a terrific rebounder, who can handle the ball, beat opponents off the dribble and plays the entire floor. UConn guard Shabazz Napier knows Gaston from tryouts for the Puerto Rico national team this summer.
"He's a terrific player," Napier said. "He's going to do his best to get points but I think our frontcourt players are going to make it hard for him to score. It's our job as guards to play perimeter defense on the guards so that they can't get the ball into the post."
Fordham's only other win came against Penn. The Rams have lost to Pittsburgh 86-51 and St. John's 58-47 in other matchups against Big East teams. Coach Tom Pecora is in his third season, hoping to turn things around and lift Fordham out of the A-10 basement.
IT'S A NEW YORK THING
Despite the early hour of practice, the Huskies were lively and full of quips in interviews. When Napier was asked about freshman guard Omar Calhoun breaking out of his shooting slump Monday night, the conversation quickly turned to playful talk of the New York-Boston rivalry.
"We want him to score," Napier, from Roxbury, Mass., said. "But it's also important for him to understand that if he can't score, he has to do something else. That's what we're trying to get him to understand. It's kind of hard, coming from New York. New Yorkers think they are better than everybody. So it's kind of tough."
It's not that way for Boston guys? "No not at all," Napier said. "We don't have that attitude. We just go out there and give it all we've got."
Calhoun, from Brooklyn, just laughed when he heard that and said it is part of the hometown battles with in the team.
"It's all fun and games," said Calhoun, who had 22 points on 8-for-11 shooting against Maryland Eastern Shore.
NOTES Ollie said guard R.J. Evans is 100 percent and ready to go. Evans didn't play Monday even though he was medically cleared. Ollie just wanted to rest him more to make sure he is ready for Big East play, which begins Jan. 1 at Marquette. . . . Napier was named a candidate for the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award Thursday. Kemba Walker won the Cousy Award in 2011. . . . Former UConn coach Jim Calhoun, now special assistant to the director of athletics, will join UConn Board of Trustees vice chairman Thomas Ritter, and others with employees of several Hartford businesses to participate in the state's observance of a moment of silence for victims of the Dec. 14 school shootings in Newtown. The observance will take place Friday, December 21, 2012 at 9:15 a.m. at CityPlace in downtown Hartford. Calhoun will give remarks. The moment of silence will be observed at 9:30 a.m.