Gameday: Villanova another big test

John F. Silver

UConn coach Kevin Ollie wasn’t going to settle for the Huskies to be a poor rebounding team.

Back in November and December when the likes of Harvard and Quinnipiac held rebounding advantages against UConn, the first-year head coach was perhaps the only one who felt it wasn’t acceptable.

The Huskies are small, lack strength as well as size and depth, and getting beaten up on the boards in Big East play was a forgone conclusion.

That was conventional wisdom, but like of that wisdom, it doesn’t apply to the Huskies this season.

UConn is coming off its best win of the season against Syracuse where it managed to out-rebound the Orange 38-36.

UConn hosts Villanova today at noon at the XL Center and the Huskies will do it having made enough strides on the boards to remain competitive. The embarrassment of having the 6-foot-1 Shabazz Napier lead the team in rebounding is over. Right now, DeAndre Daniels is leading the team at 5.0 boards per game.

“I  think we’re doing a good job with that,” Ollie said Friday. “We finally got a guy over five rebounds (average) in DeAndre. We’re going the right direction so that’s a good thing. (Daniels) is going to get the basketball. He’s making it a must and not a should. We always talk about that when we challenge guys. You have to be a must for you to get leverage and change your ways. They’re starting to identify that. It’s going to be a big conscious effort from our guys to hit first and try to get rebounds and try to get out in transition to get some early buckets.”

The Huskies (17-6, 7-4 Big East) will be undersized today against Villanova once again. No where is that size more apparent than in the backcourt. The 6-1 Napier and 5-11 Ryan Boatright (listed at 6-0, but that’s a fib) will have to face another big backcourt with  6-6 Darrun Hilliard, 6-6 James Bell and 6-3 Ryan Arcidiacono leading the way for Villanova (15-10, 6-6).

Boatright brushes off any thought of big guards overpowering him.

“I’ve been small my whole life,” Boatright said. “Just growing up, everybody was taller. I’ve always played against grown men. My dad and granddad always threw me into an open gym with grown men so I had to figure out how to maneuver, how to score. Just growing up that way you pick up things when you go along. I always studied Allen Iverson and Isiah Thomas growing up and really put a lot of work into it.”

The Wildcats are balanced with five players averaging between 12.5 points and 9.0 points per game. JayVaughn Pinkston leads the Wildcats in scoring at 12.5  Hillard is at 11.4 and Arcidiacono at 11.1.

The Huskies are in another tough stretch with games against Villanova, Georgetown, at DePaul and Cincinnati on tap. The Huskies do have their destiny in their hands however and if the team can get on a run in the final seven games of the season it could turn into a special season. The win over Syracuse on Wednesday was the best win of the season. It wasn’t the end of the season however.

“We know last game was a huge win but all that could be washed away with a loss (today),”Boatright said. “Everything that we’re working for and everything we’re trying to accomplish rides on the next game and the next one after that. All of them are important.

“We ain’t surprised. We’ve been saying since Day One that we could do this and more. We should be in a better situation than we are right now. We lost a lot of games ourselves. Marquette game, St. John’s game. We know a lot of people were doubting us and we knew a lot of people wanted to see us do bad this year so that really motivated us.”

Gameday links

UConn vs. Villanova capsule (Courant)

Napier, Boatright exude confidence (Courant)

UConn baksetball: Up for grabs (Journal Inquirer)

Villanova now focus of UConn men (CT Post)