Park City conquered

Shabazz Napier, Parker Kelly, Venky Jois

UConn guard Shabazz Napier drives past Eastern Washington’s Parker Kelly and Venky Jois Saturday in Bridgeport (AP Photo/Fred Beckham).

The UConn basketball beat Eastern Washington 82-65 Saturday afternoon in Bridgeport, its first foray away from Hartford or Storrs for a home game since 1987.

By all accounts it went pretty well. On the court, a sluggish start and a nice finish for a ho-hum game.

There were 9,274 fans in the house, more than would have attended such a game in Storrs or Hartford, today, probably. The crowd wasn’t crazy (not many students) but it got loud at times.

Anyway, here are a few quick comments from the participants:

— FOR HIS PART, UConn coach Kevin Ollie sure seemed ready to play in the Park City again if given the chance.

“I can’t speak because I’m not the only one making the decision. I’m part of the decision,” Ollie said. “I wouldn’t think twice if Warde (Manuel) said ‘Let’s go play another game down in Bridgeport.’ ”

Manuel wouldn’t confirm if the Huskies will be back here but it seems likely this is the plan for the future.

“It could be. We’ll see how it goes and we’ll asses how it went with the two games (one men’s basketball, one women’s basketball),” Manuel said. “Then we’ll determine if it will continue and if so, how? Will it be annual or something we rotate in?”

The school is still talking with Mohegan Sun about a regular season game or two there, as well.

“Right now there’s no specific plans to do anything,” Manuel said.

Former UConn coach Jim Calhoun lost his first and only home game away from Hartford/Storrs when the Huskies lost to Syracuse at the New Haven Coliseum back in 1987. Ollie couldn’t help but bring it up Saturday.

“We’re 1-0,” Ollie said. “I think coach (Calhoun) lost at the Coliseum and he shut that down real quick.”

— BOTH REGULAR STARTERS Phil Nolan and Omar Calhoun were benched to start the game. They both responded with good efforts.

Nolan had a career-high 11 points and was 7-for-7 from the line. He also had six rebounds.

“Phil was great. He responded the right way. That’s what I like,” Ollie said. “It wasn’t a benching; he was out of the starting lineup.”

Well, semantics there I guess.

“It’s not about who is starting, it’s about who is taking care of their minutes,” Ollie said.

Calhoun, who has been shooting terribly, had 12 points and six rebounds against EWU, making 5-of-9 shots.

“I want to see him play defense and rebound. Everything else is water under the bridge for me,” Ollie said of Calhoun. “I think if he plays defense and rebounds, I just think his energy is going to let his talents take over.”

Calhoun said Ollie told him Friday that he wouldn’t start. he wasn’t shocked.

“It definitely means something but I know I’ve been struggling and my coach is working with me. Obviously you can’t start someone playing the way I’ve been playing,” Calhoun said.

— OLLIE CAME UP with a new phrase (or at least unveiled it) Saturday. GAP’s.

He wants “Game Altering Plays” by his team.

I don’t know, I kind of like it.

— EASTERN WASHINGTON coach Jim Hayford seems like he’d be a fun guy to cover. He at least had some fun after Saturday’s game with the media (probably because his team played pretty well for long stretches).

“This might shock you but we don’t play in front of 10,000 people all the time on TV,” Hayford said of the trip from Cheyene, Wash., his Eagles made to play Seton Hall and UConn this week.

He was asked if he had any problem with way game was officiated or the discrepancy in the number of fouls.

“No, no. I don’t. Thanks for the bait, though,” Hayford said. “They were just quicker and more aggressive. And they were going at the basket and we were shooting 3’s.”

He was pretty impressed with the Huskies.

“We’d like to think we could make a few more of those 3-pointers we were taking,” Hayford said. “But I think their length and their defensive scheme had something to do with that.”

— ON UCONN’S TRIPS to the free throw line, the Huskies made 25 of 27, obviously a big factor in the game.

“If they shoot 25-for-27 every game they’re going to be in the Final Four,” Hayford said. “Because you can’t guard the foul line and not many people shoot it like that.”

UConn has shied away in the last two games from taking a lot of 3-pointers.

“We’re not settling for a lot of 3’s anymore. I think we shot 10,” Ollie said. “We do want to shoot three’s. I’m a big proponent of 3’s, but the right kind of 3’s. But I think our quickness and our speed is something we have to exploit on other teams.”

— THE UCONN TEAM’S Director of Basketball Administration, Kevin Freeman, wasn’t at the game. His wife Nicole gave birth to a son on Friday and Freeman was with her instread.

— THREE PLAYERS WHO hailed from Bridgeport and played at UConn were recognized during the game: Oliver Macklin, Chris Smith and Mike McKay.

— A MOMENT OF silence was held before the game for Brittney Testa, the goaltender on the UConn women’s lacrosse team who was killed in a car accident Friday near the campus.

— ONE INTERESTED OBSERVER at Saturday’s game: Donovan Mitchell, a Class of 2015 point guard from Elmsford, N.Y. who attends Brewster (N.H.) Academy.

Mitchell, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound guard, recently visited Florida and is also considering Providence and Boston College.



About Neill

Neill Ostrout covers the UConn men's basketball team for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester. He has been a member of the "Horde" for more than 16 years.
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