John F. Silver
Playing with 6-foot-8 225-pound Tyler Olander and 6-9 210-pound DeAndre Daniels as the starting center and power forward it was expected that the Huskies were going to struggle rebounding ball., there is no denying that.
The Huskies were prepared and expected to struggle on the glass this season. Still, for a team that has been defined by dominant frontlines it’s tough to watch.
Being ready for having problems on the glass hasn’t made it easier for UConn head coach Kevin Ollie to digest.
In the second half of the Huskies loss on Tuesday to N.C. State at Madison Square Garden the Wolfpack dominated UConn inside. At one point, the Wolflack held a 17-4 edge in rebounds in the second half and overall scored 42 of their 69 points in the paint.
This was not unexpected for the Huskies this season. Yes, UConn’s undersized and small. That doesn’t mean it can’t and shouldn’t rebound better. What small player can rebound? Look at the coaching staff to find some inspiration.
“There’s one right here, our director of basketball operations,” Ollie said referring to Kevin Freeman when asked about rebounding as a small team. “I don’t have go too far. I don’t have to go in the memory bank. I say, ‘Look at Kevin. He’s not the biggest guy but he was fearless, he was relentless.’”
Freeman was an undersized 6-6 power forward on the 1999 National Championship team who had no problems going against bigger players. Freeman is 17th in UConn history in scoring at 1,476 points and No. 8 in rebounding with 913 in four years despite playing at 235-pounds.
This UConn team doesn’t have a Freeman on it, but Ollie is searching for someone to try and give him that toughness and production.
The Huskies face a dangerous Harvard (3-3) team tonight and the focal point of this game, and then the week plus break for exams, will be on rebounding.
The Huskies may be 6-2 are currently ranked 310 in the nation in rebounding margin just behind Montana State and tied with Evansville losing he battle of the boards by an average of 6.1 rebounds per game. There are 345 schools in Division I and the Huskies’ struggles are coming well before physical Big East play.
Currently, Daniels and Olander lead the team in rebounding with each averaging 4.5 boards per game. That’s not going to get it done against Harvard and long-term in the Big East.
What can Ollie do?
There isn’t a magic potion or strategy that can get his players to box out and go after the ball.
“It’s about thinking every time a shot goes up, it’s a pass to you,” Ollie said. “No, I just do the same things we’ve been doing. It’s just yelling a little bit more. There’s no secret to it. I’m not inventing nothing else.”
The Huskies could also face Harvard tonight short-handed. Daniels has been bothered by back soreness and if he is limited, the luxury of 7-footer Enosch Wolf will become a necessity. Wolf picked up a lot of the slack inside against N.C. State with 12 points and nine rebounds. The way the Huskies are going, they are going to need Wolf’s play inside going forward.
“(Wolf’s) had some glimpses, the Wake Forest game, a couple other games, Michigan State,” Ollie said. “But I want it more on a consistent basis.
“I’m not asking for 12 (points) and nine (rebounds) every night. That’s asking a lot. But we see he’s capable of doing it.”
After Wolf, there are few other answers. Freshman Phil Nolan has played sparingly and struggles with the physical play at this level.
Every game is going to be a rebounding adventure this season and if UConn doesn’t put the effort in on the glass it could be a long night in Storrs.