STORRS — UConn had a week to mull over its loss at Marquette. Kevin Ollie had a week to think of new ways to get his team to play more aggressively under the basket, and DeAndre Daniels had a week to think about the minutes he did not play.
"I wasn't angry," Daniels said, "I just came back working even harder, box out and rebound, because obviously if you rebound, you're going to get minutes. … Just trying to be more aggressive."
Daniels, who has had ups and downs, came out against DePaul with that good look in his eyes again, the look of a scorer, the look of an elite player. He scored 26 points, a career high, pulled in eight rebounds and did the defensive job on the opposition's top player.
And he led the Huskies to a 99-78 victory over DePaul before 9,156 at Gampel Pavilion, the first Big East win of the season, the first of Ollie's career as UConn head coach.
"First Big East win," Ollie said. "I'm happy about that."
There was much for the Huskies to be happy about Tuesday night, but nothing more than the rebounding — yes, the rebounding. They started out with a 17-2 edge on the boards, and finished with a 49-29 advantage, looking nothing like the team that was outrebounded in 11 of its first 13 games, even by teams like Maryland Eastern Shore and Fordham, and nothing like the team that was manhandled in the early going against Marquette on New Year's Day, a game that UConn eventually lost in overtime.
"We've been concentrating on hitting first," Ollie said, "getting rebounds. I thought we did that throughout the whole game. They did all the dirty work and we put it on the board."
The Huskies (11-3, 1-1 in the Big East) scored the first nine points over the first 2:30 of the game, finishing the run with a three-point sequence from Ryan Boatright. Daniels hit a three-pointer to make it 12-3 the next time down the floor.
"We came out with a lot of intensity," said Boatright, who scored 16 points in the first half and 22 for the game. He was the catalyst, driving through the lane, bursting to the rim. With everything else playing off that, and the more second-chance points — 13 in the first half — than UConn has been getting all year, the Huskies blew it open. When Enosch Wolf missed a dunk, for instance, Omar Calhoun got the rebound and put it in to give the Huskies their biggest lead of the half, 40-18, with 7:15 to go before the break.
"Of their first 16 shots, UConn rebounded 10 of them," DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. "We kind of never recovered from that."
Purnell suspended two starters, Charles McKinney and Donnavan Kirk, for breaking unspecified team rules during the Demons' New England swing, and although neither are big scorers, Kirk, 6-9, is DePaul's best shot-blocker, and his absence clearly hurt.
"Any time you're missing two starters on the road, in a tough environment against a good team," Purnell said, "it doesn't help."
Meanwhile, Daniels was playing good defense against Cleveland Melvin, keeping him out of his spots. Melvin took only six shots in the first half, making three, and although he scored 17, most came after the outcome was no longer in doubt.
"We play [Daniels] at the four [power forward] for a reason," Shabazz Napier said. "Other fours are unable to play defense on him as well as he can against them. We wanted him to stop Melvin as much as possible, but we also told him, 'Melvin has to stop you.'"
UConn led by 20 at the half, 54-34. DePaul made a couple of runs in the second half and got as close as 12, but Daniels and Napier, who had 16 points and eight rebounds, steadied the game. Calhoun's jumper made it 75-51 with 10:02 to go, and UConn was in control after that. DePaul (10-6, 1-2), coming off a road win at Providence, lost for the ninth time in 10 games against the Huskies since joining the Big East, despite 35 points from Brandon Young.
It was UConn's highest-scoring Big East game since 2006.
Daniels, who played little as a freshman, broke out with 23 points against Harvard on Dec. 7, but he has been in and out, offensively and under the boards. At Marquette, he was pulled early and played only a few minutes after halftime.
"He didn't say, 'Oh, coach is dogging me,'" Ollie said. "He took it on himself. … He came back and played the way I expect him to play. Hopefully, this is not just a 'moment.' Hopefully, we can get this consistently over a period of time. It gives us an extra dimension to have him score like he wanted to score."Copyright © 2015, CT Now