SUNDAY CUP O’ JOE- What an exhilirating afternoon Saturday was for the UConn men’s basketball team. Once again, the Huskies marched into South Bend and marched out as streak busters after a 65-58 win over 17th ranked Notre Dame. This streak wasn’t as long as the last two that UConn snapped at the Joyce Center but it may have been the most satisfying.
The individual story on the day was Tyler Olander. The E.O.Smith alum won his individual battle with first team all Big East center Jack Cooley. It wasn’t just that Olander hit 8 of 9 shots for a career high 16 points or that he grabbed 7 rebounds. No, it was the way that Tyler did it that was so impressive, confidently, without any fear of failure. That was what made it such a significant day for the Huskies. Olander has been carrying the weight of the world on his shoulder, at least the weight of having to produce for a team that lost its three top big men from last season. At times, Tyler struggled with his confidence because frankly, he wasn’t performing up to expectations. But in the last two games, he has scored 26 points. That equals his total for the previous seven games combined. No one is expected Tyler to be Emeka Okefor, or Josh Boone. But if he can play well consistantly, it takes a lot of heat off the backcourt duo of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatwright.
Napier was terrific again with 19 points, 5 rebounds,4 assists and only one turnover in 39 minutes. It’s hard to believe that he was left off the list of 20 nominees for the Bob Cousy Award as the best point guard in the nation. But Napier’s play in the last three weeks has shown those who follow the Huskies just how good he is. And after struggling early on Saturday in his “homecoming” Boatwright was his usual steady self. His alley-oop dunk with 7:40 left was the flashiest play of the game but the most important was his four free throws that broke the 58 all tie in the final :43 seconds that started the game ending run.
But what is just as important with this team is that everyone contributed to the win. And that’s why this UConn team is one of the most enjoyable to watch. Everybody knows his role and tries to contribute every game. It’s a team with great chemistry, and don’t discount how important that is in a season where there is no post season. Kevin Ollie, who by the way has been marvelous as the head coach, doesn’t want to hear about any post season ban. He says every game this season is a post season game. And his team is buying into the message. KO said after Saturday he loved his teams resiliency. They don’t back down, they don’t know the meaning of quit. And it was would be hard to find another team as mentally tough as this edition of the Huskies.
Monday night, the Huskies face their most difficult challenge of the season to date when Louisville comes to the XL Center. The Cardinals should be ranked second by tip time on Monday night. They boast a stellar back court in Russ Smith and Peyton Siva,who quite frankly has been a royal pain in the derriere for UConn, a dominant center in Gorgui Dieng and plenty of scoring options in the front court. Except for the 2011 Big East championship game, the Cardinals have dominated UConn in recent years.
And Monday night is a chance for you, Husky Nation, to stand up. A chance to show this team and these coaches how much you appreciate their effort. How much you appreciate their willingness to battle the odds in this most unusual season. There have been times in the past when the XL Center has been a 6th man for both the men and the women A chance to show a national TV audience that you still believe in this program. Yup, the ball is in your court UConn Nation. My guess is you will.
6:30 pregame time on the radio with The Mayor and myself. And your chance to talk about it afterwards on Husky Overtime. It could be a helluva night.