I drove up to Buffalo for the NCAA Tournament games at the First Niagara Center, home of the Sabres. Here is what I took away from the 1st and 2nd rounds:
ROLE PLAYERS EMERGENCE
We made up a 10 point first half deficit with Shabazz on the bench in foul trouble. Down 19-9 , it would have been easy to fall apart with the undeniable leader sidelined but instead, we came together. Terrence and Niels combined for 15 points/12 rebounds Saturday and Brimah provided a game-saving AND-1 Thursday. In 2011 it was a Jeremy Lamb steal and dunk vs San Diego State, Shabazz free throws vs Kentucky and Scoe’s 4 blocks in the championship game. This is what has to happen to win championships. Role players need to make big plays. Shabazz is undoubtedly our Kemba but Kemba would be the first to say he needed a team making plays behind him. A knock on UCONN I’ve heard is we lack players outside Shabazz to make winning plays, not necessarily game winning shots but the small plays you need to make to win in March- get a big stop, snag a big rebound or finish a tough put-back in traffic- if Buffalo is any indication, our bench responded to the critics.
UCONN DEFENSE IS BACK
Nova shot only 35% for the game, 11-51 from the field and 11-31 from beyond the arc. Our guards had 10 steals led by Kromah’s 4 contributing to 16 Nova turnovers. Not only did we create turnovers but we capitalized as well outscoring Nova 20-4 in points off turnovers. Nova went 11:24 in the first half without a field goal. On Thursday, during the last St Joe’s possession of the first half active defense caused a shot clock violation giving us the last shot. The Huskies responded to a subpar beginning holding the Hawks to 25% on shots outside the paint after the first half.
ABILITY TO CLOSE OUT GAMES
The debacle that was inbounding the ball in the final minutes of the AAC tournament game against Cincinnati did not say much to our ability to close a game. Buffalo was different. Brimah came up with a huge AND-1 in the final minute against St Joe’s, the defense forced a shot clock violation and Shabazz/Niels executed a full court inbound play to near perfection before Shabazz took over in OT. Deandre put us ahead 37-36 with 14 minutes remaining against Nova and we controlled the remainder of the game never allowing the Wildcats to get closer than 5 points.
To complement my last bullet is the kryptonite to Calhoun Era teams: Free Throws. UCONN shot 90% (18-20) vs St Joe’s and 79% (22-28) vs Nova. I hope this becomes a staple of the Ollie Era as it is certainly conducive to tournament wins. In the last 5 minutes of each game UCONN shot 90% , 15-16 in OT first round and 20-23 Saturday. Impressive given the added tournament pressure and location at a neutral site.
- Not a great UCONN turnout- Buffalo is evidently not a popular spring break destination
- Syracuse fans miss us, Requiem For The Big East must have struck a chord
- It’s not spring in Buffalo either
- Bars close at 2 in Boston/DC/SF but 4 in Buffalo, that will never make sense to me and it shouldn’t to you
CHECK BACK TOMORROW FOR A LOOK FORWARD TO THE SWEET 16 AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN