Men's Basketball Notebook: UConn gets much-needed win at home against Harvad
Senior captain Donnell Beverly, junior captain and Big East championship MVP Kemba Walker and senior center Charles Okwandu hoist the conference title trophy following their 69-66 victory over Louisville at Madison Square Garden. ED RYAN/The Daily Campus
Coming off a rough 0-2 road trip to Texas where they lost conference games to Houston and SMU, the UConn Huskies returned home Wednesday and got a bounce-back 61-56 victory over Harvard in the team's final non-conference game of the season at Gampel Pavilion. With the win, the Huskies improved to 12-3 (0-2 American) on the season and will host UCF in the first American Athletic Conference home game on Saturday.
January may be early to call any game a must-win, but after the two tough losses on the road, the victory over the Crimson felt great for the Huskies.
"That was definitely a must-win," Ryan Boatright said. "If we lost three straight, it would've been terrible for us. And those three games we were favorites to win. So for us to get that win, it gives us our confidence back, our swagger back and just to get back on the positive end of things."
Head coach Kevin Ollie said the team has gotten a "sense of urgency" and beating a team like Harvard was a "terrific win" for them.
"It's exactly what we needed," Ollie said. "This team is going to test your discipline. We wanted to be competitive, but we also wanted to stay in our principles. If you're going to play a team that challenges you in those areas, this is the team... This was a great win. It was a grind-out win, a Connecticut win."
Huskies overcome first-half turnovers
UConn got off to a slow start and saw the team commit 11 turnovers in the first half that translated into 14 points off turnovers, as well as a part of the 31-26 deficit at halftime.
"We played some type of way we usually don't play," said Shabazz Napier, who committed three of his four turnovers in the first half. "That first half we didn't take care of the ball, we just ran to the spots and we didn't do so well."
The Huskies managed to keep that number to just four in the second half and Ollie said the key to the improve was just "taking care of the basketball."
"We were trying to run some more movement things and they were denying [them]," Ollie said. "We didn't have our guys being stagnant and we weren't running any counters and going backdoor. Then we just started getting into our flat ball screens, something simple and easy that can get the pressure off."
Napier clutch again down the stretch
With UConn up 49-47 with a little over two minutes to go, Napier connected on back-to-back 3s to pull the Huskies away to an eight-point lead. Ollie said those shots were "huge" in getting the victory.
"Especially because we gave up a four-point play, a couple of layups and we missed a couple of free throws," Ollie said of the final minute of the game. "The game was in our hands and we made a couple of mistakes there."
Ollie mentioned the team's inability to "recover" in the two losses in Texas but that they are "getting better" in that area.
"A lot of guys could've split apart because we had two tough losses. But these guys, they got something special, and this season is going to be something special for us if we stay together and we keep playing for one another and understand that we're going to face adversities. But adversity is just temporary, character lasts forever, and I think this team has the character to win a lot of games."
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