Big East play begins

Connecticut's Ryan Boatright, right, is fouled by Fordham's Travion Leonard during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Hartford, Conn., Friday, Dec. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Fred Beckham)

Connecticut’s Ryan Boatright, right, is fouled by Fordham’s Travion Leonard during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Hartford, Conn., Friday, Dec. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Fred Beckham)

John F. Silver

UConn head coach Kevin Ollie, fresh of the signing of a 5-year extension, will take another step with the Huskies tonight when Big East play opens at Marquette.

UConn is 10-2 on the season and is coming off a win over Washington on Saturday.  The Huskies will take a step up in class in the New Year starting with Marquette in their first true road test of the year. 

UConn has played neutral site games against N.C. State and Michigan State and also played on the road in the Paradise Jam Classic. A true road game with a hostile crowd? That comes tonight against an 8-4 Marquette team.

The Huskies did get a bit of good news over the weekend as small forward DeAndre Daniels is likely to play after getting stitches in his mouth after a hit to the head at the end of Saturday’s 61-53 win over Washington. Daniels had to be helped off the floor and there was concern that he may be unavailable for Tuesday’s game. Daniels did practice Sunday and is likely to play according to UConn.

The Huskies will take on Marquette as an improved team than the one that took the floor against Michigan State in Germany six weeks ago. The Huskies have played well for the most part and even improved on the boards against Washington with a surprising 40-36 advantage.  Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier have settled into the role of top scorers with Napier averaging 16.8 points and Boatright at 16.1. The Huskies also are receiving encouraging double-digit efforts from Omar Calhoun at 10.9 points and Daniels at 10.1. A 10-2 start wasn’t expected and the Huskies could have easily won both losses with a loss to No. 23 N.C State in the final minutes at Madison Square Garden and a frustrating loss to New Mexico in the Paradise Jam.

It’s encouraging, but the Huskies aren’t done.

“I am happy with 10-2, but not satisfied,” Ollie said Saturday. “That’s two different words. I am happy but not satisfied. We can give a lot more and I am going to wil the guys for a lot more.”

The one big question mark is rebounding and Washington was the Huskies’ best performance on the boards. Enosch Wolf led the Huskies with nine rebounds and Tyler Olander and Phil Nolan also chipped in.

“Our big men were terrific (Saturday),” Ollie said. “Phi (Nolan) came in and 6 minutes and contributed, Tyler contributed, Enosch contributed. They did it by committee. Enosch got on the floor 5-6 times. He played outstanding game…We want to continue to build on this momentum going into the Big East.”

Marquette is without its head coach in Buzz Williams, who was suspended by the school due to recruiting violations of an assistant.   The Warriors are also rebuilding after losing two of the top players in the league in Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder to graduation. There is talent left at Marquette however with Vander Blue the leading scorer at 13.4 points per game.

The Huskies will step into Big East play tonight before it has a week off before hosting DePaul next Tuesday in Storrs.

Gameday links

UConn readies for first conference game against Marquette (Hartford Courant)

Capsule (Hartford Courant)

New Year, fresh start (Journal Inquirer)

Ollie, UConn move on to Big East slate (CT Post)

Huskies open Big East schedule with Marquette (NH Register)