John F. Silver
For years, the Huskies have beaten up on the Blue Demons and hold a 9-1 all-time record. UConn famously used DePaul as the springboard for its five game five days Big East title run with Kemba Walker in 2011 beating the Blue Demons on the first day of that tourney.
UConn also used DePaul a little earlier this season scoring a season-high in points in a 99-78 win in January at Gampel Pavilion.
The Huskies are in Rosemont, Ill. tonight to play the Blue Demons at 8 p.m. (SNY).
The Huskies are coming off an overtime win over Cincinnati and will face Georgetown on Wednesday at Gampel in taking another shot at a nationally ranked team.
Saturday is a chance for the Huskies to bank another win and they want to do it playing well. UConn (18-7, 8-5 Big East) will play a DePaul team that has some talent but continues to struggle with a (11-15, 2-11 Big East).
The Huskies have five games left in the regular season and are marching towards a surprising 20 win season in Kevin Ollie’s first year as coach.
UConn is well-equipped with DePaul’s full-court pressing style and what the Huskies could sorely use is a big scoring game from Ryan Boatright and some solid inside play from Tyler Olander. Boatright has struggled in recent games shooting and was only 3 of 12 for nine points against Cincinnati. That was coming off a four point effort in a loss to Villanova a week ago. Boatright did have perhaps his finest defensive game of his career against the Bearcats locking up guard Chashmere Wright and had five assists.
That’s the kind of things Ollie wants his explosive sophomore guard to do. He made sure to praise Boatright after the win on Thursday for the effort.
“He grew, he matured he had his head down (against Villanova) because he wasn’t shooting the ball well,” Ollie said postgame Thursday. “(Against Cincinnati) he picked up Cashmere Wright out of the game in the second half. He stepped up and grew up.”
Olander is another story. The 6-foot-8 forward remains an enigma and went much of the game against Cincinnati without a rebound. In 32 minutes, Olander had four points and two rebounds, production the Huskies need to improve on.
Ollie also continues to mature as a head coach. For perhaps the first time in his career he pulled a classic Jim Calhoun emotional early substitution, benching DeAndre Daniels about a minute into the game for two poor plays.
Ollie’s touch was deft as Daniels had a stellar game when he returned finishing with 17 points and five rebounds on 6 of 10 shooting. Daniels’ development this year has been extraordinary as his scoring average is up to 11 points per game.
Daniels, a talented 6-foot-8 forward, wasn’t ready for big minutes last season in a disappointing freshmen season. He’s stepped into the power forward role, though his game is more of a wing, and continues to be a solid contributor.
Daniels helped picked up the slack offensively and is playing with much more confidence.
Boatright feels all of the players have matured for the better.
“He’s just kept growing,” Boatright said of Daniels. “He came back in (after the benching) and made a difference when he could have hung his head down, caught and attitude, and things could have gone another way than they did tonight.”
Shabazz Napier, coming off his continued heroics against Cincinnati, leads the Huskies at 16.7 points per game with Boatright at a shade over 15 and Omar Calhoun at 11.4 and Daniels 11.
Those four will provide the bulk of scoring against a DePaul team that has talent. Brandon Young, who scored 35 in the early season loss to UConn, is averaging 16.7 points a game while forward Cleveland Melvin is at 16.2 points per game.
The key will come down to the boards, where UConn was out-rebounded against despite the win over Cincinnati. DePaul was missing two key players in the early season blowout loss and will be tougher inside with Donnavan Kirk and Charles McKinney back in the lineup.