BUFFALO, N.Y. — Although Shabazz Napier's achievement — leading UConn in scoring, assists and rebounding — is unique and impressive, it's not ideal.
Coach Kevin Ollie is not shy about reminding his big men that rebounding should be their forte. Amida Brimah, the 7-foot freshman, hears it quite a bit.
"We need him to rebound," Ollie said. "We need him to be our best rebounder. You know, I'd take it personal. If I'm a big [guy] and the point guard is leading us in rebounding, I'm going to take that personal. So I'm going to go out there and get those crucial rebounds."
Brimah bubbles with eagerness and enthusiasm in practice and in the games, and he has made his mark blocking shots. Rebounding has come slowly, even taking foul trouble out of the equation. He averaged 3.1 per game during the regular season, with 16.0 minutes played, or 7.75 per 40 minutes played. Brimah never reached double figures in rebounds in a game, topping out at eight in 20 minutes against Central Florida.
"That's our problem with the team," Brimah said, "so [Ollie] always has faith in me to rebound."
In March, Brimah has been rebounding better, which also is reflected in scoring on offensive rebounds. In the three American Athletic Conference Tournament games, Brimah had 18 rebounds in 69 minutes, all of that coming off the bench, or 10.4 per 40 minutes on the floor.
Then in the first NCAA Tournament game against St. Joseph's, Brimah had six rebounds and nine points in 30 minutes, including the critical offensive rebounds, and a put-back to start a game-tying sequence with 39 seconds left. The Huskies would not have advanced without that play.
"That offensive rebound, I was on him the whole game," Ollie said. "If he was on our sideline, I was on him. He went out of his area and got that offensive rebound. … That's what this tournament is all about. Amida did a great job, and he grew up last night, I believe."
Next season, with Napier, Niels Giffey, Tyler Olander and Lasan Kromah gone, a sophomore Brimah will be more heavily relied upon. The flashes of dominance he has shown must become more the norm. So his "growing up" in this postseason is exactly what the Huskies needed.
UConn's 19 points in overtime against St. Joe's is perhaps the most prolific scoring OT period in program history; the most, at least, since the early 1980s, the earliest existing box scores that break it down. UConn scored 18 in OT against Cincinnati in 2013, 17 against Memphis this January, 17 against South Florida in 2013 and 16 in the first OT of a double-overtime win over Quinnipiac in the Virgin Islands in 2012. Napier played in all those overtime games. The closest pre-Napier was 16 — against Washington in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, against Providence in 2005 and against Providence in 1992. UConn radio analyst Wayne Norman provided the research. … UConn and Villanova had never met before in an NCAA Tournament game. … Iowa State, one of the East Regional teams, lost a key player in Georges Niang, who broke his foot in the Cyclones' win over North Carolina Central on Friday night. … NCAA Tournament viewership on CBS and TBS is up 6 percent over last year, and this so far is the most-watched tournament since 1993. According to Nielson, the first days averaged 8.2 million viewers. The Thursday night prime-time telecasts, which included the UConn-St. Joseph's game, averaged 10.2 million viewers, an increase of 9 percent over 2013.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun