Men's Basketball: COUGARS IN TOWN
UConn looks to avenge early loss against Houston
The UConn men's basketball team has played two games at 9 p.m. this season. They have lost both of those contests.
"To be honest, I don't think about that," Niels Giffey said.
What Giffey and the Huskies (16-4, 4-3 American Athletic Conference) are thinking about is Thursday's opponent for another 9 p.m. tip, the Houston Cougars (11-9, 3-4 AAC), who beat UConn 75-71 on New Year's Eve in the opening game of conference play in the American.
In what Giffey calls a "revenge game," the senior forward said the team gets "a little more motivation out of it."
"Because you look at the standings, you look at the way the league looks right now, it will be big time if we get this win," Giffey said.
Houston was able to beat UConn despite the absence of three starters: L.J. Rose, Danuel House and J.J. Richardson. The Huskies could not take advantage of the injury crisis, thanks in part to having no match for TaShawn Thomas, who finished with 23 points and eight rebounds.
Thomas, a preseason All-AAC Second Team selection, has been difficult to stop for opposing frontcourts all season. He currently ranks fifth in the conference with 16.4 points per game and second with 8.8 rebounds.
"Whenever you've got somebody like that it's going to be tough to guard," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "And we're going to have to do it by committee and guys are going to have to load up and play aggressive on him. And we've got to keep him off the backboard and limit his transition buckets and play solid defense against him."
The idea of playing Thomas by committee may have something to do with the uncertainty that DeAndre Daniels will be able to play Thursday night. Daniels, the Huskies' second-leading scorer, injured his ankle in UConn's win Saturday night at Rutgers.
Daniels played eight minutes in the second half after being helped to the locker room earlier in the game, only scoring two points and grabbing one rebound while fouling three times. The junior did not practice Wednesday afternoon, and Ollie considers him "probable" for Thursday. His status will be evaluated farther at the team's 4 p.m. shoot around before the game.
The Huskies were without sophomore Omar Calhoun during Saturday's 82-71 win due to an ankle injury. After a strong freshman campaign, Calhoun is struggling this season, having scored in double digits only five times this season and not since Dec. 28 against Eastern Washington.
"I think he's ready to go," Ollie said. "We want Omar to get out there, play some good defense, knock down some shots for us and try to get back on track to the way we've been seeing him and envision him playing. And he's going to get another great opportunity to go out there, and I think it's only a matter of time before he breaks out of the slump."
In Houston, Shabazz Napier was one of the few positives for the Huskies, scoring 27 points in 39 minutes. UConn may need that version of Napier again Thursday, and luckily for the Huskies, that is the Napier they have seen over the last three games.
Napier is averaging 27.7 points in UConn's last three games, scoring 30 against Louisville, 27 against Temple and 26 at Rutgers on Saturday. The AAC Player of the Week is now 15th on the school's all-time scoring list with 1,595 points, only eight behind Jeff Adrien.
"He's in attack mode," Ollie said. "The great thing about Bazz, I can isolate him, I can run him off pick and rolls, I can run him off screens, and that's a great luxury as a coach."
Since opening with two wins against UConn and South Florida, Houston has lost its edge in conference play, having lost four of its last five by an average of 17.5 points. The lone win in that stretch was a 22-point home victory over Rutgers on Jan. 19.
Playing on the road has been a struggle for the Cougars all season. Houston is 2-4 in road games, with victories at Texas-Pan American and USF.
Thursday's 9 p.m. matchup will air on CBS Sports and can be heard on WTIC 1080 AM.
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