By DOM AMORE, email@example.com
The Hartford Courant
5:27 PM EST, February 2, 2013
The UConn men can expect a different set of challenges from their opponent on Sunday. The Huskies won't be the underdog, for example, and patience, rather than the usual aggressiveness, could be the key against South Florida.
"They're a great defensive team," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "They're 1-7 in the Big East, but I don't even look at their record. They're going to hold you down; you're going to have to be patient."
The Bulls have beaten UConn only once in 10 tries since joining the Big East, but very few of the Huskies' wins have been easy, even in the vintage years. Last season was no exception, when UConn escaped Tampa with a three-point win on Dec. 28, 2011.
But that turned out to be something of a landmark South Florida team, one that went on to play in the NCAA Tournament. This season brings a new, younger Bulls team, without big man Augustus Gilchrist, and it has been a struggle, except for a notable upset of Georgetown on Jan. 19. They held their own for a while in the last game against Marquette, but were outscored 10-0 to start the second half and never caught up.
"We can't have these gaps when we come out in the second half, or during certain periods of time, and teams go on these runs and get this little bit of separation that really is the differential at the end of the game," Bulls coach Stan Heath told reporters after that game.
The Huskies (14-5, 4-3 in the league) have essentially overachieved, and found a number of ways to win games. At Providence on Thursday night was the most creative yet — outrebounded 55-24, UConn, after jumping out to an early lead, managed to stay in the game and win it in overtime.
"One thing I can say about this group," Ollie said, "they're learning how to win, and that is a good thing. They're learning how to find ways to win and that's a great momentum-builder as a group. But we have to shore up some things, and rebounding is at the top of that list. You're not going to win games getting outrebounded by 30 in the Big East."
What the Huskies, who had Friday off and practiced Saturday morning, did right at Providence was shoot 50 percent, including 9 of 17 on three-pointers, often by penetrating and kicking the ball back out to an open shooter. The zone defense can be solved that way, and UConn has seen a lot of zone. Ollie expects more on Sunday.
"A lot of teams are playing zone," Ollie said, "a lot of them are going toward that. There a not a lot of big guys, not a lot of guys blocking shots, and the zone can cover some of that. You've got to be able to rebound off that. A lot of teams are playing smaller; the zone allows you to do that. But at the end of the day, we shot 50 percent [against a lot of Providence zone], so we must be doing some good things. We're seeing some positive things in film we're going to be able to exploit."
South Florida's point guard, Anthony Collins, has 133 assists and only 48 turnovers, and impresses Ollie, a former point guard. "I don't know anybody who dribbles as low as he does," Ollie said. "He gets into he cracks of the defense and finds the shooter."
The Bulls don't have great height, and have been outrebounded 36.8-32.0 through 20 games. They are averaging 53 points in Big East play, last in the 15-team league offensively, but they are sixth defensively. The psychology of this game could be in their favor, though, with UConn coming off an emotional win. The Bulls' could frustrate the desires of UConn's guards, and the home crowd, for an up-tempo game.
"Toughness is a talent," Ollie says. "It's going to be a possession by possession game. They're not looking to score in a hurry. It's going to go down to the end of the shot, can we be patient to play to the end of the possession?"
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