STORRS – DeAndre Daniels was talking, Ryan Boatright was hitting open shots and Amida Brimah was batting the ball into the student section, prompting chants of "Am-ee-dah … Am-ee-dah."
A new season is nearly here, and the UConn men's basketball team is establishing its signature, an identity.
"First game, we had some bright spots, we've got a lot of things to work on," coach Kevin Ollie said after the Huskies defeated Southern Connecticut 93-65 Wednesday night before 5,114 at Gampel Pavilion in the first exhibition game of the season.
One thing has not changed: rebounding. UConn, which was outrebounded by 5.5 a game last year, was outrebounded by the Division II Owls, 48 to 43, though that figure is misleading. UConn shot 53.1 percent from the floor, 63.3 percent in the second half, so there weren't a lot of offensive rebounds to be had. UConn blocked 10 shots, limiting rebounding opportunities on defense.
Still, being outrebounded by a Division II team becomes a teaching moment.
"We'll go back into the lab and get it right," said Phil Nolan, who had six rebounds in 11 minutes, "and you'll definitely see improvement next time."
Daniels, the 6-foot-9 forward considered a rising pro prospect, was the dominant player on the court, picking up essentially where he left off in March. In 28 minutes, he had 21 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. His days as a quiet, unassuming player are over, Ollie and teammates have been saying.
"He's terrific," Southern coach Mike Donnelly said. "We saw him on film. He plays with a great demeanor, too. He's just tremendous."
It was a quiet night for Shabazz Napier, who took only three shots in 24 minutes. Boatright showed some of the improvement in point-guard skills he has talked about this summer and fall, and he hit all three of his three-point attempts to finish with 15 points.
"Boatright played very well," Ollie said. "To have five assists and one turnover, every move with a purpose. He got in a lane and he wasn't just trying to use his athleticism. If he had closed his eyes, I think he would have known where his guards were, where his forwards were. That's a good sign from point guard."
The breakout storyline for UConn, though, was Brimah, the 7-foot freshman from Ghana and Miami, who immediately showed his shot-blocking skill. He blocked five shots in 17 minutes, getting eight points and three rebounds, running the floor well and giving the Huskies a different look.
"The thing I do best is, I'm a shot blocker," Brimah said. "I felt comfortable. I'm working on getting stronger."
Said Ollie: "He's going to be a great player for us. He plays with passion, he plays with energy, he plays with effort – and he's very, very long. When he spreads out and goes up vertically, and keeps his arms up, it's hard to shoot over him. And if they do shoot over him, he alters a lot of shots, too. It doesn't matter that it was Southern Connecticut, it's the intensity he brings – did you see the last shot? He contested that, up 30. He even has a nice jump hook down low; he's not as raw as people think."
Southern has improved steadily since Donnelly took over in 2010, and with its roster filled with Connecticut kids, played hard, giving the Huskies a good workout. Greg Langston, who scored 18 points, hit a three to give the Owls their only lead, 3-2, in the opening minutes. They hung close for much of the first half, pulling within 18-14 on a jumper by Michael Mallory, who scored 13.
But the Huskies were able to establish a pretty good offensive rhythm, playing a little more open as they adjust to the new hand-check rules designed to open the game up offensively. UConn took 17 threes, hitting seven, with Giffey, who had 10 points, and Leon Tolksdorf each making two to stretch the defense.
"People say we're a small team," Nolan said, "but if you look at us we're actually a pretty big team and we can do a lot of things."
The Huskies have one more preseason tuneup, against Division II Concordia at the XL Center on Monday.
"I wasn't happy with our rebounding effort and they'll understand that when we get back to practice on Friday," Ollie said, "and we just can't be giving up 27 fast-break points, that's not good."
For the Owls, it went by too fast
Southern had a large block of supporters sitting above its bench and the players, Donnelly said, "were in heaven" when they got to Gampel and started walking around.
"They're mad that it's over," Donnelly said. "We told them it would go by fast. They enjoyed the experience, and that's what we wanted. We were able to get out on the fast break, and if we could do that against these guys, it will help us at our level."
The Owls shot 30.3 percent, missing several layups and dunks. Stefon Williams had 10 rebounds.
"That's a good team over there," Ollie said. "Mike has done an excellent job. I see them winning 20 games."
SCSU was 17-10 last season, its best record in more than a decade. "I've never had this many people wanting to talk to me," Donnelly said, as he sat down for his post-game press conference. "To have people talking about Southern Connecticut basketball on Oct. 30, we've come a long way in a short time." … Ollie started his three seniors – Giffey, Tyler Olander and Napier, and juniors Boatright and Daniels. Giffey got the start over Omar Calhoun, a sophomore. … UConn used 14 players Wednesday night. Against Concordia, look for Ollie to play Brimah and Nolan/Olander together more, and Giffey at the power forward slot. Those are looks he says he wants to assess. … Jim Calhoun will work on the Huskies radio broadcast with Joe D'Ambrosio for the season opener Nov. 9. Wayne Norman will work the football game that night. Calhoun and D'Ambrosio teamed up for the season-opener last year. … Maryland learned Wednesday it has lost its starting point guard Seth Allen for eight to 10 weeks with a broken bone in his left foot.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun