John F. SilverUConn doesn’t have a big or large team. Even its “bigs” are more of the lanky type with Tyler Olander the only player on team over 220 pounds in Tyler Olander.
UConn doesn’t have any space eaters and early in the season that hurt the Huskies on the boards. UConn coach Kevin Ollie tried everything to get the Huskies rebounding better. He tried every drill he could come up with and even made some up. UConn was out-rebounded by Yale by 12, Florida by eight in wins. Those numbers aren’t sustainable and it hurt the Huskies in losses to Stanford (-2), Houston (-4) and SMU (-8).
At some point, rebounding isn’t technical, it’s effort based. Ollie tried a different tact and after getting destroyed on the boards in a loss to Louisville at a -15, he told them team the truth — no rebounding no winning.
UConn (19-5, 6-4) is undefeated this season when it out-rebounds an opponent. The trend is clear, if the Huskies board they are tough to beat.
“We really took off after the Louisville game,” Ollie said. “I think we took off, we got embarrassed, -15 on home court and the guys took pride in it. We showed the stats, 12-0 when we out-rebound an opponent and work hard. When bad things happen to you, sometimes it’s a blessing in disguise. You don’t want to be -15, don’t want to lose against Louisville, but their pride was hurt.”
UConn’s new found rebounding prowess has brought about terrific results. Since losing to Louisville and getting crushed on the boards UConn has out-rebounded Temple (+20), Rutgers (+5), Houston (+15), UCF (+11) and USF(+10). The only loss during that stretch was to Cincinnati, which UConn was -3 against. But even that was negligible as the Huskies gave up only four second chance points in the loss to the Bearcats.
The difference is effort and physical play, not some genius drill.
“They are just going after the basketball,” Ollie said. “We are putting bodies on the box out and “commit to hit.” I tried every drill, I am not making up anymore drills up.”
UConn’s rebounding remains the key to the season, which continues on Saturday when the Huskies host No. 22 Memphis at the XL Center. The defense is ferocious with top flight defenders on the perimeter, wing and inside with Amida Brimah blocking shots. If the Huskies can close out the possessions by limiting teams to one shot that ignites the fastbreak, something the Huskies are deadly at converting.
The rebounding margin in victories have led to big results with 24, 11, 37, 20 and 43 point wins in that span. The difference is the rebounding.
UConn is now, surprisingly, a +2.5 on the boards this season, something now one saw coming earlier in the year.
Shabazz Napier leads the Huskies with 5.9 per game while Daniels adds 5.6 per game. The Huskies do the rest by committee with Ryan Boatright, Niels Giffey, Lasan Kromah and Brimah all averaging over 3.0 per game.
The Huskies will host Memphis with an eye on beating the Tigers once again on the boards. UConn held a 34-27 edge on the boards in an 83-73 win at Memphis in January. The top rebounder for Memphis is sophomore Shaq Goodwin, who averages 6.7 rebounds per game.
The Huskies and Tigers have a lot at stake, if you want to see how the game went on Saturday, first thing to check is the rebound column.
* UConn F Tyler Olander practiced and should be ready to play on Saturday after missing Wednesday’s win over USF with flu-like symptoms. The news isn’t as good on G Omar Calhoun, who didn’t practice and continues to struggled with post-concussion symptoms. Ollie put Calhoun’s chance of playing at 40 percent.
* UConn F Kentan Facey hit his first 3-pointer in the rout of USF on Wednesday. The athletic 6-foot-8 Facey is pursing for time at the PF slot, but also is working on the perimeter shot. He spent time after Friday’s practice shooting foul line jumpers and corners 3s with assistant coach Glenn Miller.
Ollie talked about the big lineup with playing a C such as Brimah or Phil Nolan with a PF of Facey or Tyler Olander, or even Nolan and Brimah together. The minutes have been limited, but Ollie said in spots he likes that look.