Daniels Shows His Toughness After Ankle Injury

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — With 4:11 left in the first half, DeAndre Daniels went up for a defensive rebound, fell over Ryan Boatright and, man, this Saturday night in Jersey looked as if it was going to end up ugly. Worse than a night, this was something that could ruin a season.

Was it Daniels' right knee? No, it was his right ankle. It looked bad. Daniels was flat on his back when trainer James Doran came onto the court during what could be UConn's last-ever appearance at the RAC. When Daniels eventually was helped to the bench, he put no weight on his right foot.

Doran worked on him. Dr. Jeff Anderson came over to the bench and worked on him. All the time, Daniels had his face buried in a towel. There was a glimpse of good news when Anderson and Doran eventually brought him to the locker room and he was able to put some weight on that leg. But that doesn't always mean much.

"I actually didn't see the play," said Shabazz Napier, who would take control of this 82-71 victory over Rutgers with 20 of his 26 points in the second half. "I thought the worst. I thought he fell on his head. I'm glad he came back in the second half. He showed a lot of guts."

"I was very surprised [he returned]," coach Kevin Ollie said. "It was a high ankle sprain. Everybody knows, whoever played basketball or played any sport, a high ankle sprain is very painful. It's one of the severest ones you can have. He just gutted it out, man. That's what it's all about. That's the toughness we need to see. Not only our coaching staff, but our players need to see that. A guy who's coming back in, no matter what, he's going to gut it out. We tell our players that all the time. He was a living testimony of it."

Yes, this is a story about ankles. Daniels' twisted right ankle, Omar Calhoun's twisted left ankle and the two ankles that UConn fans should twist as they run away from one of the worst conference rivalries in the history of basketball.

After scoring 31 points last game, Daniels showed his teammates plenty in scoring only seven on this night. There's a picture that has been painted of Daniels and it's fairly accurate. If he hits his first shot of a half, he's going to hit his second and his third and his fourth. If he misses, if he doesn't get involved immediately, he fades into the night. Against Louisville, Dick Vitale was on ESPN saying how much he had heard about Daniels and how he had done practically nothing. Hard truth.

It is an image that Daniels will have to fight through, but for this night he showed plenty. He showed fight. Daniels emerged from the locker room after the game, one sneaker on, one sneaker in his hand and a protective boot on his right foot.

"I'm feeling all right, my ankles kind of messed up right now," Daniels said. "I twisted my ankle pretty bad. I went in the back and they tested it out. They taped me."

"They asked me if I wanted to sit out. I said no. I wanted to fight through it, to do anything I could to help my team get the win. Get guys open, set picks, just tough it out. I knew it was going to hurt me a lot just running up and down the court. I was basically hurting the whole time I was out there."

Look, UConn isn't going anywhere without Daniels.

"Last year when I went down, we still had a chance to win with Boat," Napier said. "DeAndre is definitely an X factor. If we don't have him …"

It wouldn't be pretty.

"I know Niels Giffey will step up, but DeAndre can play the 2, 3, 4, 5 and make it easier for us," Napier said.

Daniels ended up playing eight minutes in the second half and although he scored only one basket during the time, it was a nifty reverse layup.

"I was jumping off my left foot," Daniels said. "I couldn't push off much on my right."

And next game?

"I'm definitely going to play no matter what," Daniels said.

I learned a long time ago, covering the NHL, covering various sports, not to rush to call somebody a hero and somebody weak because of injury. It's impossible to do without a full medical report and without getting inside an athlete's head. Sometimes, everyone would probably agree, circumstances do conspire to make it look a certain way. Omar Calhoun has endured a terrible year. His shot hasn't been going in, Ollie has been critical of his defense and now there he was sitting out on a night when Daniels looked like he had more guts than a slaughterhouse.

"Omar tweaked his ankle last game, decided he couldn't play at the shoot-around," Ollie said. "He just didn't have the lateral movement. So we sat him out this game. Hopefully, he'll be back for Houston. Hopefully, DeAndre will be back for Houston. If not, we're going to have to play who we've got."

After running a lot of pick-and-roll that Rutgers countered with traps, the Huskies opened the floor for Napier to work his magic in the second half. After a lousy shooting start, one that had Ollie sitting Napier out briefly to gather himself, Napier was unstoppable. Good team, great player, Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said simply.

Ryan Boatright did a strong defensive job harassing Myles Mack (2-for-9 shooting). After Rutgers hit 6 of 10 threes to take a 42-41 lead early in the second half, the Knights hit only 2 of 8 and shot 32 percent overall in the final 20 minutes. It obviously helped that UConn got 34 points in the paint and outrebounded Rutgers, 34-29.

In truth, those are merely the details of another win over Rutgers. The Huskies beat Rutgers always, almost always, anyway. Since the Knights showed up in the Big East, the Huskies are 20-2 against them.

Let's be honest about the UConn-Rutgers conference basketball rivalry.

It sucked. It was worthless.

We're going to miss an awful lot about the old Big East conference. Syracuse and Pittsburgh, Georgetown and Villanova, etc. But Rutgers? Truth serum: I'd rather take a plunge in the icy Raritan than return for another game at the RAC.

As this conference season goes on, with lots of long road trips, with a number of schools everyone in Connecticut is struggling to get warmed up to in terms of rivals, let alone learn all their nicknames … I'm growing less enamored of the American. But Rutgers, when it goes to the Big Ten, won't be something I'll miss.

You know what Rutgers' road winning percentage was in the Big East? .250? Nope. Gulp, .200? Keep dropping. .150? It was .147 [20-166].

The Scarlet Knights barged into the Big East in 1996 and never once made the NCAA Tournament. Bless their souls. Maybe they'll win some in football. Maybe their entry into the Big Ten will give the league boffo TV ratings in New York. Or maybe it's one of the great coups of all time that Rutgers got into the Big Ten.

All I can think about is how referee Duke Edsall, Randy's brother, made a hilarious continuation call on Terrence Samuel in the second half. It was something out of the NBA in the 1970s. Edsall gave Samuel the basket and the foul, and the three-point play was huge. All I can think about is maybe this was a gift for Rutgers AND Maryland getting into the Big Ten.

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