In a matchup of perimeter oriented teams the play of the bigs may prove to be the deciding factor. UConn hosts a Rutgers (12-6, 3-4 BIG EAST) squad this afternoon at 2 p.m. in Hartford that is in many ways a mirror image of the Huskies (12-5, 2-3 BIG EAST). Both teams rely on their guards as catalysts, have dealt with inconsistent front court play and are looking to climb back to the .500 mark in conference play.
Asked if rebounding was one of the keys to victory UConn Coach Kevin Ollie said, “Definitely. We want to make sure we keep (Rutgers) off the plate. That’s what we’d been giving up against Pittsburgh (-11 rebounding margin) and Louisville (-9).”
Adding, “We want to make sure we do a good job on pick and rolls, defending their three guards. They do a lot of penetrating and (Myles) Mack has been shooting the lights out.”
Both teams come in riding two game losing streaks with the Scarlet Knights dropping back to back games to St John’s and Notre Dame and the Huskies falling to Pitt and Louisville. To make matters worse UConn has had to wait over a week for a chance to get back into the win column. Rutgers is currently in tenth place in the BIG EAST conference with the Huskies sitting at eleventh.
Ollie highlighted the benefits of a week-long mid-season break.
“Positives. School is starting. We’ve got a new academic advisor. And then with Shabazz (Napier), having his shoulder calm down from the contusion is a good break for us. Seems like the guys have a little too much legs, hopefully saving some of it for (Sunday). They’re live. They’re energized. We’ve had some great practices over this weeks lay-over.”
The Napier effect
As Napier goes, so go the Huskies. The junior guard has been battling a left bad should for a couple of weeks, limited to eight points versus Pitt on seven shot attempts and held to eleven points against Louisville.
Said Napier, “It still hurts, especially when I’m sleeping and when I wake up in the morning. Before practice I ice it up. Can’t do box-out stuff in practice. When I loosen it up it feels good, but when I go cold for five minutes the pain comes back. It’s frustrating. It’s teaching me to be patient.”
Guards lead the way
The back court continues to carry the day for Ollie’s Huskies with Napier (16.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.52 a/to), Ryan Boatright (16.0 ppg) and freshman Omar Calhoun (10.9 ppg) leading the way. Despite posting new career highs in scoring this season, sophomore forward DeAndre Daniels (10.5 ppg, team leading 4.4 rpg) continues to show inconsistent improvement. Daniels scored only 14 points in losses to Pitt and Louisville and did not record a single rebound in the loss to the Panthers last Saturday.
The Scarlet Knights are led by sophomore guards Eli Carter (15.6 ppg) and Myles Mack (13.2 ppg) with fellow guard Jerome Seagears and forwards Dane Miller and Wally Judge rounding out Rutgers’ top five. Much like UConn, Rutgers struggles off the boards holding only a +3 edge in the rebounding department over opponents while the Huskies come in down four caroms per game (35.9-31.9). UConn does not have a single player averaging over five rebounds per game.
History favors the Huskies
Rutgers joined the BIG EAST in the 1995-96 season with the Huskies holding a commanding 18-2 advantage over the Scarlet Knights in conference play. The Knights knocked off UConn 67-60 last season ending a 10 game losing streak to the Huskies. All-time UConn is 34-14 against Rutgers.