UConn’s 69-46 win over Seton Hall Saturday afternoon, a victory that snapped the team’s four-game losing streak, had its roots in a team meeting Friday, it seems.
Yes, head coach Jim Calhoun was out and George Blaney was at the helm. But that was incidental, the players say.
Captain Alex Oriakhi called his team together Friday before practice to set a few things straight.
“I told guys that it really hurts not to make the tournament,” Oriakhi said. “We weren’t playing together so I told guys I’m willing to give up my minutes. I don’t care no more. I don’t care if I’m on the bench. I’ll be the biggest cheerleader. I just want to win.
“When I said that, you could see the guys’ eyes. They really bought into it. I said ‘Either we’re in or we’re out.’ Everybody said they were in.”
Oriakhi apparently was getting calls from his mother and father and UConn assistant director of administration Kevin Freeman to take charge.
“I really couldn’t sleep. I just told guys, I apologized for even being selfish, too much thinking about my minutes, this and that,” Oriakhi said. “I think that’s what we needed.
“My freshman year we didn’t have that,” Oriakhi said. “I said if I’m the captain on this team I have to take responsibility for what happens, whether I’m playing or not.”
G Jeremy Lamb said the meeting was good for everyone.
“He’s a good guy to be around. He’s always joking and stuff,” Lamb said. “Yesterday he got serious with us, told us what was on his heart.
“He’s been through good seasons and bad seasons,” Lamb added. “He just told us we’re a good team, we just have to play like it. We have to step up, do whatever we can for each other.”
Has UConn really turned a corner? We’ll see.
“I really think that meeting was all the difference in the world,” Oriakhi said. “It’s crazy what a few words will do.”
— Calhoun watched the game from his home in Pomfret. Blaney called him after the victory.
“There was a little more jump in his voice that wasn’t there this morning or yesterday,” Blaney said.
— Ryan Boatright was the star of the game, obviously. He had 19 points, five assists and four steals in 36 minutes of action. He connected on 8-of-12 from the floor.
— Lamb’s back seems to be bothering him but he shrugged it off after the game.
“It’s not bad. I did take a little shot and it was a little sore and stiff, but it’s good,” Lamb said.
— UConn made just two of its 13 shots from 3-point range. The Huskies are 7-for-46 in their last three games from behind the arc. Ouch.
— Seton Hall’s 17 points in the first half were a low for a UConn opponent in the opening halves of games (ND had 21 in that first meeting). Holy Cross did score just 16 in the second half of its loss to UConn.
— At first it seemed as if Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard would not speak to the media after the game. Willard was ejected by official Gene Steratore in the second half following an exchange between UConn’s Shabazz Napier and Seton Hall’s Jordan Theodore.
Willard received two technical fouls after arguing with Steratore, but said he didn’t have a problem with the way the game was officiated…sort of.
“I thought the refs called a good game. To be honest with you, there is one of them I don’t get along with,” Willard said, seemingly referring to Steratore, who is also an NFL referee. “I wanted to wish him a very happy Valentines Day. He didn’t like that, and that was the end of that.”
Willard added: “I don’t mind getting blown out. I do have an issue when the refs enjoy the blow out. And I don’t think they should be smiling or enjoying one team getting their butt kicked and another team not…that’s what I saw.”
The Pirates obviously missed Herb Pope (ribs), who didn’t make the trip. If he had played, who knows how the game might have turned out.