Tonight, UConn battles #2 Duke at the Izod Center in the latest chapter of a storied rivalry. The Devils in Blue hold a slight 5-4 series edge although UConn’s victories have come on a much bigger stage (1999 Championship/ 2004 Final Four). Duke, featuring likely 2015 #1 overall pick Jahlil Okafor, enter tonight’s match-up at 9-0, having won all nine games by double digits. UConn, at 4-3, comes off a blowout win over Coppin State where sophomore center Amida Brimah exploded for 40 points and 12 rebounds. Thoughts on what UConn needs to do to compete:
First, set your timer to 4:54 and hit start…
Build off Coppin State
Coppin State was a step in the right direction for the Huskies. UConn made it a priority to get the ball inside and it paid dividends with Brimah/Facey combining for 65/106 points (who suggested that). Through getting the bigs involved we relied less on the three ball and more on the free throw (18 3PA vs 33 FTA). Duke is known for great team defense and will pack it in when we drive- leaving the three open. WE MUST NOT SETTLE FOR 3’S. We don’t have the shooters to beat Duke on the outside and must continue to move the ball until we find an opening to attack (see pick and roll below).
Another thing to look for is how Boatright reacts to the defense collapsing. Will he force shots like he has done in the past? Or, will he play like a true point guard and move the ball?
Brimah will certainly have his hands full tonight against freshman big man Jahlil Okafor (18 points/9 rebounds on the year). Depending on the flow of the game, we may need to double Okafor at times to prevent Brimah from getting in foul trouble. Another way we can take heat off Brimah is by limiting entry passes. If our pesky guards can put pressure on Duke up front, that will severely limit their ability to find Okafor down low. The less touches- the better.
Offensively, Brimah does not need to score for us to win. Although I predicted tonight to be his breakout game, realistically we need Brimah to defend, box out and run the floor making Okafor work in transition. However, Brimah scoring is a good sign because much of his offense is created for him (think Hamilton/Boatright lobs). If Brimah/Facey are scoring that means our guards are penetrating and dishing which will free up the outside shot.
The pick and roll will be huge for us tonight as we do not have a big man who can challenge Okafor one-on-one. The bigs need to set solid screens and make Okafor defend the pick and roll. We have the athletic guards to challenge Okafor at the rim and get him in foul trouble (see X-factor). If Okafor picks up a quick 2, tonight becomes a whole different game. Looking back at Duke’s closest game (Wisconsin), Okafor battled foul trouble and put up a human 13/6. We can live with that. The 25/20 he put up in his most recent game against Elon? That will hurt us. Our guards need to attack the rim off the pick and roll and put Okafor in a position where he cannot beat us- the bench.
Rodney Purvis. I am so tired of the “Ferrari out of the garage” reference because you know what- HE IS STILL IN THE GARAGE. I have yet to see Purvis attack the defense – either in transition or half court- the way he did at NC State. Every UConn star has their coming out party on a big stage- what bigger stage than UConn-Duke? If Purvis can get out and make some plays in transition he will ignite the pro-UConn crowd in the building, creating a Garden-esque atmosphere a la last March.
Has your timer gone off yet? If it has, that is the amount of time Duke has trailed all season. 4 minutes and 54 seconds. Yes, we started moving in the right direction against Coppin State but if it doesn’t work against Duke, don’t panic, right now they may just be the better team. However, that’s not to say we won’t be the better team when it counts.
For good measure let’s end with One Shining Moment from 1999:
PS: Thanks to Pat/Katy Lenehan for the tickets!