UConn men: Tough stretch

Kevin Ollie and the 11-3 Huskies will head to South Bend to take on No. 17 Notre Dame on Saturday. The Huskies will then host No. 3 Louisville on Monday. /Associated Press photo

Kevin Ollie and the 11-3 Huskies will head to South Bend to take on No. 17 Notre Dame on Saturday. The Huskies will then host No. 3 Louisville on Monday.

John F. Silver

The UConn men’s basketball team has had a share of tough games already this season.

There was the opener against Michigan State, the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands as well as a game against N.C State in Madison Square Garden in December.

That is all in preparation for what’s coming up in the next couple of weeks for the Huskies in the Big East.

UConn, 11-3 and 1-1 in conference after a 99-78 win over DePaul on Tuesday, will find out what its made of over the next two weeks. 

The Huskies will play at No. 19 Notre Dame (14-1) in South Bend on Saturday and then host No. 3 Louisville (14-1) on Monday in Hartford.

The Huskies wrap up the three-game set at Pittsburgh (13-3) — just off a 73-45 thrashing of No. 19 Georgetown–  on Jan. 19.

That’s three high-regarded teams teams in the span of about 10 days — two on the road — as the Big East schedule begins in earnest.

Connecticut's DeAndre Daniels, center looks for a rebound against DePaul's Moses Morgan, left, and DePaul's Derrell Robertson Jr., right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Storrs, Conn., Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. Connecticut won 99-78. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Connecticut’s DeAndre Daniels, center looks for a rebound against DePaul’s Moses Morgan, left, and DePaul’s Derrell Robertson Jr., right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Storrs, Conn., Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. Connecticut won 99-78. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

“The schedule makers did us no favors,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said on Thursday. “We come back and play Louisville at home.  Once again we don’t look at is as an obstacle, but an opportunity to show america what we are made out of.”

The Huskies are going to have to show a little extra mettle in the next several weeks as it tries and make a run in the Big East. The Huskies took a big step towards that on Tuesday when it destroyed DePaul on the boards 49-29 including 20 offensive rebounds. The Huskies have been the worst rebounding team in the Big East and among the bottom 50 teams in the country in rebound margin coming into Big East play but hit the boards against the Blue Demons. The Huskies had 30 rebounds in the first half, normally a games worth.

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the win over DePaul was the play of centers Enosch Wolf and Tyler Olander. Olander scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds in 16 minutes while Wolf continued to give positive minutes with eight points and seven rebounds in 17 active minutes. That 18 points, 13 rebounds from the bigs is something Ollie wants to see regularly.

“My two big guys combined for 33 minutes and 18 points and 13 rebounds, we love that production by those two and hopefully we can keep it up,” Ollie said.

The Huskies are an odd team on the rebounding front in many ways. Point guard Shabazz Napier is leading the team — a 6-0 foot guard — at 4.5 rebounds per game with DeAndre Daniels second at 4.4 rebounds per game. The Huskies don’t have the dominant rebounders they have had in the past but have worked extensively on boxing out and getting physical.

Daniels and guard Ryan Boatright got in a scuffle during practice last week in a box out drill and there was a noticeable box out and physical play on the boards against DePaul.

The Huskies will face better rebounding teams in Notre Dame and a powerful Louisville squad that is a national title contender. The Huskies aren’t at that level but if they can remain competitive on the boards have one of the more dynamic backcourts in the Big East in Napier and Boatright.

Kevin Ollie Big East Conference call