"I'm talking about a mind-set change," said coach Kevin Ollie, who mentioned changes after the loss to St. John's on Wednesday night. "How we're starting games. I'm sitting back, thinking of some things. We have to be more confident in our shots. What we're doing hasn't been working."
The Huskies fell 15 points behind before making a strong second-half run against St. John's. They were down 12, but came back to beat South Florida in OT the previous game. On Sunday in Newark against the Pirates (13-10, 2-8 in the Big East), Ollie wants the Huskies to get off on the right foot.
Snowed in, he has spent a lot of time studying film, watching Seton Hall's 10-point loss to Pittsburgh at least twice. He said he was thinking about some new set plays, moves that might allow the Huskies to penetrate more effectively to the basket.
UConn shot 27 three-point attempts against USF, and 28 against St. John's — numbers that won't translate to many wins. The Huskies shot roughly 30 percent from the floor in the two games. Against St. John's, Ollie counted 17 missed layups, most of which were shots in which the Huskies were muscled into awkward positions. That's where his call for confidence comes in.
"We've got to be a little strong, more forceful in putting down the two," he said. "We have to convert on those easy baskets we get around the rim."
Ryan Boatright, 4 of 19 from the floor in the past two games, has really struggled in this regard and, in fact, sat for nine minutes in the second half against St. John's. "It isn't just Ryan," Ollie said.
Without penetration, or big men to throw to inside, UConn has been settling for threes, rather than selecting the more makable ones.
As the Big East season wears on, the Huskies lack of frontcourt size, skill and depth becomes more of a factor, although, again, they've hung in nearly every game late. Seton Hall, like many teams in the league, is battling injuries. Fuquan Edwin, the Pirates' leading scorer, has a sprained ankle and is probably out for Sunday. Brian Oliver, another starter, has been trying to play through an ankle injury.
The inside game is not considered a Pirates strength, but they have outrebounded their opponents this year, and they stayed with Pittsburgh late in that game.
"We're playing better of late," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said during the Big East teleconference this week. "We're not winning games, but we're giving ourselves better chances."
Seton Hall has been off since Monday, so Willard, too, has had time to watch UConn tapes. The injuries, though, will be a factor as the Pirates try to keep UConn's guards, Boatright and Shabazz Napier, from breaking out. Both Edwin and Oliver are 6-foot-6, big-guard types who could give UConn's smaller, quicker guards trouble in the lane.
"Their guards worry you, if you're healthy or not," Willard said. "Shabazz and Boatright are difficult to defend. I don't think their size hurts them; I think their size helps them. If you're small guards, you're going to have a tough time guarding them. If you're a big guard, you're going to really have a tough time guarding them. They're such good players, it's hard to see if anybody neutralizes them."
If the Huskies can win this game, they would assure themselves of a winning record and perhaps generate more buzz for the biggest event of the year — against Syracuse at the XL Center on Wednesday. But Ollie has seen too much Big East basketball to look that far ahead.
"I know [Seton Hall is] 2-8 in the league," Ollie said, "but they played Pittsburgh very tough. Real tough. It comes down to possessions. They're 2-8 in the league, but we could easily be 2-8 in the league, or easily have a better record than we do. It comes down to the possessions. They're a dangerous, dangerous team, and we don't want them to start rolling on our watch."