By Erica Brancato
UConn men’s basketball head coach Kevin Ollie said he wants his team to make it hard for him to choose which players he is going to give minutes to.
The Huskies certainly accomplished that as each player stepped up and fought hard to contribute to a gritty 62-56 win over the Cincinnati Bearcats on Saturday before an enthusiastic sellout crowd at the XL Center.
“I’m a very happy coach to win five out of the last six games and the only game that we lost was in overtime,” Ollie said. “So I like where our team is going, now we just have to keep taking steps forward.”
Though the game started off spotty at times, as it often does when these two teams play, UConn held Cincinnati to a mere 39 percent in field goal shooting. The Huskies stepped up tremendously in the second half as UConn’s stifling defense held off the Bearcats in a great conference win.
With three consecutive big wins under their belt, UConn looks to be meshing and playing like a confident and strong team. Though this young group still has things they need to improve on, the Huskies have stepped up and responded like champions as Ollie has said.
“I think that we made a statement that we are a better team than we were in the beginning of the year,” captain Ryan Boatright said. “We are getting better every game and we are learning from our mistakes. We are starting to win those games now.”
Junior guard Omar Calhoun stole the show as he played a strong game in all aspects on the court. He proved that his past injuries are behind him as he helped pick up the team in slower moments. His three-pointer late in the second half not only brought the Huskies up 55-49, but it also helped UConn’s momentum greatly for the win.
“I don’t know if it is a confidence thing, it is just getting back and getting the feel, you know, mentally I can play again,” Ollie said. “He’s doing a great job spacing the floor and he’s doing a better job doing the quick three’s, the pump fake and getting it to the 15-foot range, his mid range game… the things he’s doing for us is remarkable. Twelve points in 19 minutes, I’ll take that everyday.”
Freshman forward Rakim Lubin also had a strong presence throughout the game as he adjusted to more minutes on the court. Lubin held up strong against the Bearcats as he racked up two points, two rebounds and two big blocks for the Huskies.
“I tell him all the time he’s our bruiser,” Boatright said. “He has the body that we need to be down there banging with those bigs. He’s a little undersized but he’s got a lot of heart and you know as long as he can learn what he needs to do as far as in the team’s system and know the plays and all of that, the more he will be on the floor.”
Although sophomore Terrance Samuel did not score any points, his 17 minutes on the court was a tremendous impact. With four rebounds and a steal, Samuel was a team player who helped the momentum of the game. He helped keep the game pace up and was a big part of leading the Huskies on the court.
“It’s not about points,” Ollie said. “It’s about contributing in different ways… I thought he did a wonderful job giving us some meaningful minutes and in the second half I took Ryan out and we went on a little run, a sprint there too so that’s when Terrance was at point guard.”
The Huskies fed off the great energy in the crowd and used this energy and excitement to keep them motivated throughout the game.
“We don’t win that game without our crowd,” Boatright said. “I told the guys before the game they come out and make the team. They show love. They come and support us so let’s give them a quality win.”