By DOM AMORE, email@example.com
The Hartford Courant
6:53 PM EST, November 25, 2012
– There is no reason to believe otherwise — what UConn achieves in men's basketball this season will come with great effort and resourcefulness.
One player is shut down, or injured, another must step in. One element doesn't work, another way must be found. Whether it is a Big East opponent, a Big 10 or mid-major, most wins will have to come by grinding them out.
And thus far the Huskies are doing that. On Sunday, they found a second-half rhythm from the three-point line, got a career-best effort from Niels Giffey and came from behind to beat a rugged Stony Brook team 73-62 before 8,474 at Gampel Pavilion.
"They were just out-toughing us," coach Kevin Ollie said, "and we had to get back to what we need to do, got to play hard, got to play together. Second half, we came out and started playing better, we rebounded, we got in the break and started making a lot of threes."
The Huskies, down by seven early in the second half, and by four with 13:04 left to play, had missed 11 of 13 three-point attempts and their guards, the core of their offense, had been quiet. But Omar Calhoun hit a jumper, and Shabazz Napier hit a three to give them the lead at 42-39 and then, finally, they were off.
UConn hit seven three-point attempts in a row, eight of nine, with four players getting into the perimeter act. When Napier hit a three, drawing a foul and completing a four-point play, UConn had finished a 26-8 run and had a 61-47 lead with 4:16 to go.
"I haven't seen us shoot like that in a while," Ollie said. "That's what we needed. It came off great penetration by Boatright; they started sharing the ball."
UConn (5-1) was out-rebounded for the sixth game in a row, this time 38-35, still a major cause for concern with Big East play drawing closer.
"I thought we could be plus-12 on the backboards against them," Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell said, perhaps a telling indication of the perception of UConn's frontcourt, "to be plus-three is a disappointment."
Keeping the Huskies competitive in the rebounding column was Giffey, the 6-foot-7 junior who seems to be hustling every minute he is on the floor, but in the first five games was not rewarded in the box scores. With the Huskies down 10-2, he assumed the role that had been played by R.J. Evans, providing a stabilizing spark off the bench, hitting four free throws to get them back in. Giffey scored nine of UConn's 26 points in the first half, and finished the game with career highs in points, 15, and rebounds, eight.
"Niels was my MVP," Ollie said, "and he has been my MVP this whole year, not just playing time but doing all the things that epitomize UConn basketball. And he got rewarded tonight, he was our 'glue' guy."
Stony Brook (4-2), an America East team working hard to build a national brand, played a game Saturday, defeating Canisius, but the Huskies appeared to be the team hitting a wall in the early going. UConn missed 10 of its first 11 shots and found itself behind 10-2, and 14-6. The Huskies guards, who had been providing nearly 70 percent of their scoring, were shut down. UConn rallied to take a 24-21 lead, but Stony Brook finished the half with an 8-0 run and led 31-26 at the break.
"When you've got great guards, you've got a chance," Pikiell said. "We tried to clog the lane and keep them off the foul line. They got on a run and they made a lot of threes — I didn't expect that. That's not what they've been doing."
UConn hit 10 of 31 from the floor in the first half, 2 of 11 threes. "We didn't play our game," Napier said, "and coach ripped into us."
The Huskies trailed by seven, 33-26, early in the second half. Napier, as has been the case in nearly every game this season, was dormant in the first half, taking only two shots, making both. He got to the line and got going with a couple of free throws with 13:48 to go, and finished with 19 points, 5 of 7 from the floor, to again lead UConn in scoring. Napier, Boatright, Giffey and Calhoun all hit threes during UConn's game-turning barrage.
"It's a game of runs," said Stony Brook's Dave Coley, who scored 15, "and they made a run."
Calhoun scored 14 points, all in the second half. Boatright had nine points and seven assists, finding Napier and Calhoun for threes in transition. Tyler Olander and DeAndre Daniels each had eight as the Huskies had a little more balanced attack in this game. Guards had generated 69.4 percent of their scoring the first five games, but with Evans injured and Giffey picking up the slack, Napier, Boatright and Calhoun accounted for 56 percent on Sunday.
"We just knew we had to come out and have a stronger second half," Calhoun said. "We were able to get some open looks and knock them down."
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