John F. Silver
UConn beat Notre Dame last week, it’s reward was a date with No. 1 Louisville and loss on Monday night. The Huskies soft landing?
Pittsburgh at the Peterson Events Center today on the road.
That type of gauntlet has made Big East basketball what it is and UConn coach Kevin Ollie is under no illusion that the Panthers will be any easier than the previous two games.
“They will play tough and play gritty,” Ollie said of Pitt. “We got to keep them out of transition and keep them in halfcourt game and hopefully our defense steps up to the plate and is better than it was in the second half of the Louisville. “
Ah, the second half of the Louisville game.
UConn had as big as a 10 point lead on No. 1 Louisville in the first half on Monday and led by six at the break. Then Louisville put the vice grips on the Huskies like few teams have ever done and physically choked off any kind of defense. The Cardinals shot 60 percent and led by as many as 18 points in a dominating second half performance and a 73-58.
UConn went back to the drawing board this week and will have to do it with a limited at best Shabazz Napier (17.2 points per game) and at worst without their leading scorer. Napier injured his left shoulder against Louisville and missed practice. He was slated to give it a try on Friday at practice in Pittsburgh and his availability for today’s game and his effectiveness remain to be seen. All indications are that Napier will give it a shot. How effective he is remains to be seen.
The Huskies also will be facing another imposing frontline in the always physical Pittsburgh team. The Panthers go 10 deep on the roster and are led by Talib Zanna’s 12.1 points per game. Four players average between 9 points and 12 points and 10 players play double digit in minutes. Pittsburgh is very much a team oriented offensive and rebounding team.
The Huskies are going to need another big game out of its frontline in Enosch Wolf and Tyler Olander. After Olander and Wolf had stellar games in wins over DePaul and Notre Dame, it was a a no show effort against imposing Louisville. Olander had two points and one rebound in 30 minutes while Wolf had zero points and 2 rebounds in 10 minutes.
The defense was also lacking as the centers allowed Louisville’s guards to get to the rim with abandon and score 44 points in the paint.
“”Our big men took a step back, but they’re going to take a step forward,” Ollie said. “We still believe in them, they know that. They did a hell of a job at Notre Dame.”
What does Ollie need to see?
“I just like to see that we are sacrificing our bodies. Our ball-pressure has to be better. We can’t sit back and be a reactionary team. We don’t have the shot-blockers other teams have. We’ve got to sacrifice our bodies. We can’t give up offensive rebounds, second-chance points, and we can’t give up transition buckets. “