John F. Silver
There wasn’t anything hurt on Daniels or something especially a matter with him. That’s just the price you pay for playing the way he did in Wednesday’s double overtime thriller against Georgetown, a 79-78 Hoyas’ win.
Daniels came into the interview room late Wednesday night with a bag of ice draped around one shoulder and wraps of ice all over his body.
Daniels didn’t have time to be dejected or disappointed in the Huskies’ loss. Sure, UConn (19-8, 9-6) Big East) had a seven point lead with 2:03 left in the second overtime only to see it wilt away.
Daniels didn’t have the energy for anger. Right now, about 30 minutes after the performance of his career, Daniels slumped over in a chair and rested.
Exhaustion was the only physical reaction he had to the game.
“My body is banged up,” Daniels said. “I’ve never really felt like this – My back, my knees, my shoulder. Everything is killing me right now.”
Those bumps and bruises were well-earned. That’s what you get for the game of your life. It’s the price players must pay to play against the best.
Daniels was tasked with match up with Georgetown’s Otto Porter, the likely Player of the Year in the Big East, and for most of the night got the better of play.
Daniels finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds – the first double-double for UConn this year – and showcased to the rest of the nation why he was such balley-hood recruit two years ago.
“DeAndre had a great game,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said. “He was everywhere. He played like we know he can. He fought. He took the challenge of Otto Porter and passed it.”
Daniels was fierce defensively on Porter, grabbed 10 rebounds and had three blocks. He played Porter as tough as anyone has this year. Porter had a nightmare first half with only one point and one shot.
Porter righted the ship in the second half as he broke free to finish with 22 points and the game winner.
But, when Daniels got him straight up it was as difficult a matchup as Porter’s seen.
“It was a tough matchup,” Porter said of Daniels. “He’s a terrific player. He was just setting ball screens, popping, and we have having miscommunication with that. He’s a tough kid. He was knocking down shots when they needed.”
How about Daniels’ defense?
“He was playing good defense, trying to make it hard for me, clogging up the paint…he was terrific.”
Daniels has taken the long way here.
He had what can now be called a disastrous freshman season where he struggled to get acclimated to the college game and averaged a scant 3.0 points per game. He just was never comfortable last year and played with little confidence.
This season, ready or not, Daniels was going to have to play with the dearth of big men on the team. He has slowly built up resume this season playing out of position as the power forward and sometimes center and is averaging 11.2 points per game and a team high 5.1 rebounds. He is athletic, can shoot the 3-pointer and take it to the rim.
Daniels’ career-high came against DePaul in January, 26 points. But the best game of his career came on Wednesday night.
He showed up against the best team and best player in the Big East and was the better player. Daniels was all over the
place grabbing rebounds, diving for losses balls and hitting shots as the Huskies nearly pulled off a titanic win. Daniels’ motivation and energy were what was different about tonight’s game.
For the first time in his career, Daniels played with a chip on his shoulder.
“I’m one of the top players,” Daniels said. “I heard a lot of people saying I can’t play with Porter and all this other stuff. I took it as a challenge.”
Daniels has played well this year and his play isn’t a surprise.
Wednesday was a different level.
The Huskies have three games left this season and are done. The building blocks for next year are already being played.
Daniels showed a glimpse of what could be to come on Wednesday.