Men's Basketball Notebook: Calhoun, Nolan respond off the bench as No. 15 UConn rolls
Published: Saturday, December 28, 2013
Updated: Saturday, December 28, 2013 16:12
BRIDGEPORT – The UConn men’s basketball team was unable to get farther than seven points ahead of Eastern Washington in the first half, and the Eagles fought to within six with 9:28 remaining in the game.
But the 15th-ranked Huskies hit their stride in the second half, receiving contributions from all over the floor en route to an 82-65 victory Saturday afternoon at Webster Bank Arena.
Calhoun, Nolan respond to benching
For the first 10 games of the season, head coach Kevin Ollie used the same five starters in every game. Last week against Washington, Ollie shook things up, giving freshman Amida Brimah a chance to start over sophomore center Phil Nolan.
Despite eight points and five rebounds off the bench in Seattle, Nolan was benched again Saturday, but this time he was joined by sophomore Omar Calhoun, who was relegated to coming off the bench in favor of senior Niels Giffey.
Giffey has been the guy providing a spark off the bench for most of the season, but Calhoun and Nolan both responded to coming off the bench with big numbers against the Eagles. Nolan finished with 11 points, six rebounds and two blocks. Calhoun, who has struggled to make shots recently, added 12 points on 5 of 9 shooting with six rebounds.
“Phil was great. He responded the right way,” Ollie said. “I thought Omar came in and finally got his shot going – he hit two 3s. I thought he played very well…I thought two of the guys that showed great character was Omar and Phil.”
The two shared the team lead in rebounds, and the Huskies outrebounded Eastern Washington 39-36 as a team.
“We need Omar and Phil to get where we want to go,” Shabazz Napier said. “It was great to see those guys do well.”
Winning at the line
Five players finished in double figures for the Huskies: Napier (15), Ryan Boatright (14), Giffey (13), Calhoun (12) and Nolan (11). But only Napier and Boatright would have reached 10 points if UConn had been unable to convert effectively at the line.
UConn shot well from the field, converting on 45.8 percent of its shots, but the Huskies got to the line 27 times, 20 more times than Eastern Washington, making 25 of them.
“They’re a very quick team, and that’s why you have that discrepancy at the foul line,” Eastern Washington head coach Jim Hayford said. “If they shoot 25 for 27 every game, they’re going to be in the Final Four, because you can’t guard the foul line.”
For the season, UConn is now shooting 75.9 percent from the line (189 of 249).
The key to UConn getting to the line as much as they did Saturday afternoon: they drove the lane instead of settling for contested 3-pointers. Despite being a successful 3-point shooting team, Ollie wants his team to settle for “the right type of 3s,” and get to the lane and to the free throw line whenever possible.
“I think our quickness and our speed is something that we have to exploit,” Ollie said. “And I think we got caught up with shooting a lot of 3s. But now we’re getting back to basics, and we’re getting to the rim…It’s indicative of us putting on pressure, offensive and defensive.”
Saturday’s game was UConn’s first ever at Webster Bank Arena, and 9,274 Husky fans in Fairfield County celebrated by setting a new record for attendance at the arena.
The fans got behind UConn as the Huskies began to pull away from the Eagles late in the second half, nearly bringing the arena down after Napier’s behind-the-back pass to Giffey, who threw down with two hands to give UConn a 16-point lead with 6:06 remaining.
“It was fun. I liked the arena,” Giffey said. “The fans really supported us…And when we went on that run, they really got fired up. I have a lot of friends from Fairfield County so it was a lot of fun for them to come out over the break.”
Napier was pleased with the excitement of the crowd, but for him, nothing beats UConn’s on-campus home.
“There’s a lot of things Bridgeport can do that [XL Center in Hartford] and [Gampel Pavilion] can’t,” Napier said. “But at the end of the day, I love Gampel. I’d rather play in Gampel every single game.”