STORRS — The Huskies came through the most important week of the regular season with all their postseason hopes intact.
But the week just passed carried with it extreme highs and lows. In beating Memphis on the road Thursday night, the Huskies made a loud and impressive statement. After losing, and getting pushed around by defending national champ Louisville in front of a packed Gampel Pavilion on Saturday night, UConn had to do the listening, and learning, all over again.
"We're going to move on from it and get back to playing good basketball," said coach Kevin Ollie, who was ejected for the first time in his career during the second half Saturday. "Our aggressiveness wasn't there at the beginning of the game, and they figured that out. We have to make sure we come back and play with more assertiveness, offensively and defensively."
If the game at Memphis was a testament to mental toughness, the loss to Louisville did nothing to refute the perception that the Huskies can become physically soft. They were outrebounded 45-30, outscored in the paint 40-20, and those numbers only hint at the degree to which they were taken out of their game. Shabazz Napier, who scored a career-high 30 points, noted that Louisville "didn't shy away from contact."
In Montrezl Harrell, who had 18 points and 13 rebounds, the Cardinals had a 6-foot-9, 240-pound "monster" in the middle, something the Huskies cannot match right now. Florida's Patric Young was similarly dominant on Dec. 2, but the Huskies were able to overcome it and win at the buzzer. Shaq Goodwin of Memphis has similar size and skills, but UConn was able to hold him to three rebounds.
Harrell, though, appears to be the best player of that type that UConn has seen this season, and if they advance deep into March, more and more bruisers will appear on the scene.
"We've got to do a better job of asserting ourselves," Ollie said, "get that basketball and finish with force. We get the ball, pump fake, pump fake. We've got to go up there strong."
Ollie lost his temper and was ejected, in part, because he didn't like the way his players were being hit, especially Niels Giffey, as he was going up for a shot, by Wayne Blackshear. He wanted fouls called by the officials, and more fire from his team, especially DeAndre Daniels, who played only six minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.
"I know I would have come out for the second half boiling mad," Ollie said. "I would've got that third, fourth foul real quick, with a charge, throwin' somebody out of the way, I'd have done something."
Daniels, who had 23 points and 11 rebounds at Memphis, played tentatively, going 1-for-9 from the floor, getting four rebounds, and that was the difference. Without him, the Huskies did not have a viable player in the middle to combat Louisville's zone defense. Amida Brimah played 31 minutes, but had only three points and five rebounds, Tyler Olander played 15 minutes with four points and two rebounds, and Phil Nolan was limited to four minutes.
So the inside game comes and goes for UConn, there against Central Florida and Memphis, nowhere to be found against Louisville. There's still work to be done there.
The Huskies began the week at No. 29 in the NCAA's RPI rankings. With the win at Memphis, which was 19th, and a loss to Louisville, which was 39th, UConn figures to stay in that area when the RPI is updated. The schedule slows a bit with the coming of the spring semester, with games against Temple on Tuesday, at Rutgers on Friday and against Houston on Jan. 30.
The next time the Huskies figure to face this same kind of physical challenge will be at Cincinnati, 6-0 in American Athletic Conference play, on Feb. 6.
"We'll be good, we'll be fine," Ollie said. "We'll recover like we always do."
Boatright Heads Home
Ryan Boatright, who scored 10 points against Louisville, headed home to Aurora, Ill., to be with his family, which is mourning the shooting death of Arin Williams, a cousin whom Boatright considered a brother.
"It's been tough," Boatright said. "I haven't really had any sleep, little to no sleep. He's constantly on my mind, but I'm trying to focus on basketball while I can. When you lose somebody that's close, it's natural for them to pop up every once in a while. It's been tough for me but I'm not holding that up as an excuse. I've got a job to do, and I try to go out and do my best."
Said Ollie: "[Boatright] has been unbelievable. I know he's got a heavy heart. He's going back to Chicago, hopefully God will be with him and his family and give him peace in this tough situation and then we'll get him back."