UConn men: Daniels breaks out

John F. Silver

STORRS, Conn. – DeAndre Daniels’ lower back was sore enough that the coaching staff considered not starting him and even sitting him out in Friday’s game against Harvard.

Connecticut's DeAndre Daniels, right, shoots over Harvard's Christian Webster, left, and Wesley Saunders during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Storrs, Conn., Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. Daniels scored a game-high 23 points during his team's 57-49 victory. (AP Photo/Fred Beckham)

Connecticut’s DeAndre Daniels, right, shoots over Harvard’s Christian Webster, left, and Wesley Saunders during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Storrs, Conn., Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. Daniels scored a game-high 23 points during his team’s 57-49 victory. (AP Photo/Fred Beckham)

Sitting him would have made sense. The Huskies have a 10 day break after for exams and any injury and back flare would have had ample time to heal.

UConn head coach Kevin Ollie has a long view on the season. Certainly, being healthy for Big East play is something the Huskies need to be going forward. What they needed more than health is a confident Daniels going into Big East play.

After a season of solid and unspectacular performances, the sophomore forward showed Ollie what he can be when every thing’s clicking.

Daniels was a breath of fresh air on Friday night scoring a career-high 23 points on 9 of 12 shooting as the Huskies knocked off Harvard 57-49 at Gampel Pavilion.

It was the kind of game that the Huskies (7-2) have been waiting for out of the 6-9, 195-pound sophomore enigma from Los Angeles. Daniels remains the lynchpin for the Huskies’ hopes this season. He’s athletic and has length at 6-9 and is being asked to be an inside out player who can rebound and provide scoring.

He’s a player,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said of Daniels. “He has to have confidence to take it to the rim and be aggressive. He decided to play today and…we will need that coming up in Big East play and coming up after the break. Our margin of error is so little.”

The Huskies have a pair of high-scoring guards in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright and are in desperate search of a third scorer to round out the offense. On some nights this year it’s been freshman Omar Calhoun. On another, junior Niels Giffey has provided some much needed punch.

On Friday it was Daniels’ turn and his play was the most encouraging. After consecutive seven point games against New Hampshire and N.C. State, Daniels exploded for 15 first half points showcasing his versatility. He made driving layups, hit a pull up jumper and also showed a deep range 3-point shot as he proved to be a matchup nightmare with his quickness and size for Harvard.

“I can help (Boatright and Napier) and take the load off of them because everyone is going to scout us and try to get us out of our game,” Daniels said. “I just need to step up and help and get the load off their back.”

It’s that type of mismatch that Ollie wants to exploit going forward.

“He just controlled the game,” Ollie said. “We knew we had a mismatch problem. And he showed the toughness we want…DeAndre is a player and DeAndre just has to have confidence to take it to the rim, be aggressive.”

It hasn’t always been easy for Daniels. The talented sophomore has ability, but has struggled in his year plus at UConn. In his freshman year he never got comfortable and finished the year averaging 3.0 points in 12.1 minutes.

This year Daniels plays by default being the most athletic big man on the team and its most versatile player. He came in averaging 8.1 points per game in eight starts and tripled that on Friday despite suffering with a sore back.

Daniels’ play early was a sight for sore eyes for teammates. Boatright and Napier have carried the Huskies’ offense all season and the amount of attention defenses pay to the backcourt is immense. Daniels’ play early allowed Boatright and Napier to hold off their offense. Boatright played a more controlled and efficient game as a result with 16 points on 11 shots while Napier didn’t even look for his shot in the game.

“He can be great at times, he can be a tremendous player,” Boatright said. “And (other) times he doesn’t feel like playing and is lazy, whatever he feels like doing. We are trying to get him to come out like he did today every day. If he can do that, he will be an unbelievable player.”

Napier scored only six points, but added nine assists, seven rebounds and four steals with one turnover not making a field goal until the under eight minute mark of the second half. Napier just sat back and tried to get his teammate the ball.

“We know (Daniels) can score,” Napier said. “It’s up to him to believe he can score. His confidence is kind of low but after today I feel it should be very high.”

Daniels remains the key to the Huskies’ season going forward. His ability to rebound and defend will go a long way towards making the Huskies competitive in the Big East. If he can score with the efficiency and production that he had on Friday, the Huskies will be more than competitive.

The Huskies head into exam week and a 10 day layoff. There are things that are positive such as effort, defensive intensity and most of all a 7-2 record. Their are things that are concerns mainly inside scoring and rebounding.

One of the major concerns at the beginning of the season was Daniels’ play. If Friday was any indication of what’s to come the Huskies will be all right.

“We will need that in Big Easy play,” Ollie said. “Coming up after the break because we’ve got some good teams coming in here.”