By Erica Brancato
The UConn men’s basketball team has always had a key player each season that led the Huskies to success.
In recent history, we have seen Kemba Walker, Shabazz Napier and several other greats over time leave a mark on this program. There was no question this season that captain Ryan Boatright would fill that position as the leader.
Yet in the past, these players haven’t carried the team alone. Last season Boatright was Napier’s right hand man. They were Batman and Robin on the basketball court: a dynamic duo that was nearly impossible to stop.
However this season, UConn is still establishing a steady identity. The Huskies have had moments of composure, but no single player has stepped up to be Boatright’s “Robin”.
In UConn’s 67-60 victory over UCF on Thursday night before a sold out crowd at Gampel Pavilion, junior guard Omar Calhoun proved to be that secure right hand man the Huskies have been looking for. With back-to-back three-pointers and a dunk to start the game, Calhoun relieved pressure off of Boatright and gave UConn extra energy and stability to start off the first half.
“That’s what we have been looking for all year man,” Boatright said. “To come out like we did in that first half, with that intensity and that ball pressure on the defensive end and sharing the basketball like that. It was fun being out there. Everyone was sharing the basketball and it was a lot of energy in the crowd.”
Calhoun racked up 11 points and two steals in his 23 minutes on the court. He was confident and composed as he helped lead the team in both the frontcourt and the backcourt. His poise and skill on the court helped keep the wheel turning for the Huskies.
“I knew once he hit his two first jump shots, I knew it was going to be a good game for him,” Boatright said. “I could just see his rhythm and his confidence in warm ups. I just knew he was going to have a good game.”
Calhoun’s break out performance along with the loud out crowd helped the Huskies stay energized and focused in hopes to snap their two game losing streak. UConn was more aggressive and hungry, as they showed progress and growth against the Knights.
“I like any progress as long as we are getting better,” Boatright said. “We just need to get better everyday in everything that we do. Like I said, it is a learning process. It’s a young team and it’s going to take time. It’s the mid-season point and I’m happy to see how good we have been, better than a few games ago. We just have to keep it going.”
Along with Boatright and Calhoun, freshman Daniel Hamilton and sophomore Amida Brimah racked up a combined 24 points, four blocks and 12 rebounds to help the Huskies on offense. The defense was also strong and aggressive as they held UCF to 36 percent shooting with 10 steals and 25 defensive rebounds.
“I was proud of our guys in the second half to hold that team to 60 points when they average 75 points in the American Conference,” head coach Kevin Ollie said. “We did a pretty good job with our defense, now we just have to understand how to win games in big time environments. We just have to do a better job at the free throw line. That’s one of our Achilles heels. We have to do a better job in that… but 21 assists, eight turnovers -- I’ll take that ratio all day.”
UConn looked aggressive, composed and confident. Calhoun’s explosive start and a combined 10 three pointers in the first half helped the Huskies tremendously.
As the halfway point to the season is here, the Huskies look to continue this explosive and aggressive trend throughout the rest of the regular season and beyond.
“I tell the guys all the time if we could start every game like that -- man, we would be in every game,” Boatright said.