NEW YORK — Depth is a relative thing in basketball. Coaches often talk about how deep their rotation of relevant players goes, but in close games against important opponents, the trust factor narrows the options.
"If we take care of the ball and get good shots, we've got a lot of weapons, a lot of guys who can do a lot of things."
And in the Huskies' 78-77 victory over Maryland, Ollie, indeed, used 10 different players for significant minutes, early and late. All 10 of them scored, nine had at least one rebound, and as the game ended with UConn hanging on, only one starter, Ryan Boatright, was on the floor.
"It means we're deep," Boatright said. "Everybody can come in and contribute in whatever way they need to for us to get a win."
This was not the case a year ago, when UConn, beset by transfers, fielded a thin roster, especially in the frontcourt. Although Ollie often played eight, as he did in the opener against Michigan State, it was usually out of desperation. When injuries hit late in the season, UConn used only six players for more than a minute or two in the final few games.
Maryland, of the ACC, was an important nonconference opponent for the Huskies to beat and begin building a tournament resume, so first game or no, the number of players involved, and the number of ways they were involved in the win, was significant.
"Sky's the limit," said Tyler Olander, a starter last year who played only nine minutes, all down the stretch, against Maryland. "We have so many different weapons, so many people who can do different things and play different positions. Niels [Giffey] and DeAndre [Daniels] can play different positions. Me or Phil [Nolan] can play [power forward or center]."
Of course, things looked a lot different after Shabazz Napier got into foul trouble with the Huskies ahead 67-50, and ultimately he fouled out with 90 seconds to play. But any team, no matter how deep, is going to look different when its best player is off the floor. UConn still managed to hold on to its lead, with Boatright running the offense and freshman Terrence Samuel take an occasional turn at the wheel.
"I like Shabazz running the point," Ollie said. "I like his vision. But if you look, Boatright is playing point guard, too. I'll run a lot of plays with Boatright. They're interchangeable, and Terrence came in for some, too. I think I've got three legitimate point guards, and they're only going to get better."
Ollie did not substitute much last year, and the contrast to the "quick hook" of Jim Calhoun was inevitable. But Ollie didn't have the options to substitute as much last year; this year's team will probably present a truer picture of his substituting philosophies. Against Maryland, he went to his versatile veterans — Giffey, a senior, and Lasan Kromah, a fifth-year transfer — early. Giffey played 12 minutes in the first half, scoring 13 points, and Kromah played nine minutes and scored eight. In the second half, they combined for nine minutes and no points, as Daniels and Omar Calhoun resumed their roles.
"I know everybody on this team could play a whole different role if we were at a different school," Giffey said. "But that shows the mentality of our guys, Lasan had a great first half, I had a great first half and then we were on the bench for 10 minutes — but it doesn't matter as long as we win."
Even using 10 players, two did not play at all for UConn: sophomore Leon Tolksdorf and freshman Kentan Facey, the highest-rated incoming recruit — two more options in Ollie's pocket who could get a look in Game 2, against Yale at the XL Center on Monday at 3 p.m.
The byproduct of all the depth is diversity. Last season, Napier (17.1 ppg) and Boatright (15.4) accounted for 45 percent of UConn's scoring. In this game, they had 27 of the 78 points.
"I don't want to take a lot of shots," said Napier, who was 5-for-12 from the floor. "I want to be a point guard, I want to distribute. I've got Omar [Calhoun], I've got DeAndre, I've got guys who are ready to shoot. It's a given that opponents are going to be watching me."
Said Boatright, "Last year, Shabazz and me had to do so much that when we got gassed it seemed like nobody could step up. Tonight, we got a little bit gassed and guys were able to step up."
Freshman Amida Brimah has worked his way into the mix at center, and become an effective shot-altering presence. When he and Nolan, who started, both got into foul trouble, Ollie went back to Olander, who hit a decisive three-pointer, dusting off an old element of his game that had to be shelved when UConn didn't have enough inside players.
"I tell Tyler, 'We need your experience,'" Ollie said. "'I don't know when I'm going to put you in the game, but be ready.' … Next man up, that's what we believe in our locker room."