John F. Silver
The sparse crowd of little over 8,000 fans had already thinned a bit at the XL Center in Hartford. The ones who stayed gathered their coats and dressed head to toe out into the November cold.
There was a faint applause followed by silence. There wasn’t a smile on any of the fans leaving. There was not joy in Hartford on Thursday night.
UConn fans know good basketball when they see it. UConn is a team that has been one of the top programs in America for much of the last quarter century.
Thursday night wasn’t good basketball.
UConn shot 36.7 percent from the floor, had 13 assists and 13 turnovers and were 1 of 14 from 3-point range.
Everyone knew this season was going to be rough with a postseason ban, a decimated roster and a new head coach in Kevin Ollie.
Days like this were expected. The Huskies have roster issues, depth issues and size issues. It still doesn’t make it easy to stomach.
UConn is a 6-1 on the season going into Tuesday’s game in the Jimmy V Classic against North Carolina State.
It’s a good record and a good start. It just doesn’t feel like a good team at UConn. If New Hampshire was any more able, the depressed fans on Thursday night would have walked out with a shocking loss. The Huskies certainly deserved anything that happened.
“We should have beat that team more than we did,” guard Ryan Boatright said. “They should have beat us. They didn’t hit shots like we did. But, a win is a win.”
The best part about UConn’s win was that it was a win. Mr. Positive, Ollie, was struggling to find areas of strength for the Huskies against New Hampshire, which had lost three straight coming in including a two-point loss to New Jersey Institute of Technology.
“I’m not going to have a pity party,” Ollie said postgame. “We had a good win and I’m not going to apologize for it.”
The Huskies are suffering from the same inconsistency that has plagued them in many games this season. UConn plays sporadic minutes of terrific basketball only to watch it overcome by poor play. UConn, with only one senior on the team in the injured R.J. Evans, continues to play up and down with the catalyst behind it in Shabazz Napier the leader of the pack in inconsistency.
Napier is UConn’s leading scorer at over 19 points a game, but had only five points on 2 of 9 shooting against New Hampshire. Napier didn’t get to the foul line and had only three assists in two turnovers in 33 minutes.
This is the same Napier who lit up Michigan State in the season opener for 25 points on national television and has a penchant for exploding for points. How Napier, a junior, manages only five points against the Wildcats perplexes Ollie.
“I have no idea,” Ollie said. “If I had answer a lot of people would be sitting on my couch and i would be a psychiatrist. I don’t have it. I don’t have rhyme or reason. I am going to coach the kid, the kid is a talent, oh, he’s is so good and can do so many things on the basketball floor. I don’t have an answer why he goes for 5 points.”
While Napier struggled there were aspects of the game that the optimist Ollie found. Boatright scored 19 points and Omar Calhoun added 16 points and eight rebounds in 38 minutes. Calhoun shot only 4 of 10, but was a physical presence getting to the line 11 times while crashing the boards.
The Huskies also got solid production out of Tyler Olander, eight points and four rebounds despite being plagued by foul trouble. DeAndre Daniels had seven points and led the Huskies with 10 rebounds while center Enosch Wold even got into the action with four points and six rebounds.
The Huskies out-rebounded New Hampshire 43-40 to win the glass for the first time this season and the defense held the Wildcats to 30.6 percent shooting.
Those are encouraging numbers if you weren’t watching the game. Ollie, the players and those who watched know that if the Huskies play like that Tuesday at Madison Square Garden or when the Huskies get into Big East play, the scoreboard won’t be as kind.