So, this is planet Houston


UConn guard Shabazz Napier chats with reporters Monday night in Houston.

The Huskies are back in Houston.

They won’t be playing in the same building as their trip in 2011, but at least Niels Giffey, Shabazz Napier and Tyler Olander have some positive memories about visiting the city.

It’s time for UConn’s American Athletic Conference debut, a 9 p.m. New Year’s Eve tilt against Houston at Hofheinz Pavilion.

— AFTER ARRIVING AT the team hotel Monday night coach Kevin Ollie and the Huskies took a few minutes to chat with the hardy media folks who made the trek here.

The coach had some interesting comments about UConn’s margin of victory and perhaps what some think it should be.

“It’s not like we have five first-round picks on our team and a monster. We don’t have that,” Ollie said. “I try to tell people we have to play together as a team for us win. We don’t have the monster teams we had prior. People are like ‘You’re supposed to blow this team out!’ No, you play strong basketball and you play together basketball, we can play against anybody. But on any day if we don’t have those things working in our favor, we can get beat.”

Not sure what he was responding to (the question he was asked was kind of innocuous and disjointed…yes, from yours truly) but it was food for thought.

— IT’S LIKELY THAT UConn’s DeAndre Daniels get a chance to match up with Houston’s TaShawn Thomas.

“I love tough matchups, playing against great players. I’m a competitive guy so I like to come out and compete,” Daniels said. “I find that when people say that other people are better than me, that’s when I feel like I play my best.”

Ollie is certainly impressed with Thomas, especially his rebounding ability.

“He’s fantastic,” Ollie said. “Coach (James) Dickey does a great job getting the high-low where he posts up really strong. He catches on the sweet spot when they have him in the elbow area, he’s able to iso(late) bigger guys and use his quickness. But at the end of the day he goes and rebounds the basketball. That’s his best offense. He can post up, he can shoot the 17-footer, but when that ball goes off the rim, that’s a pass to him. He goes and gets it with force. That’s what makes him a great player.”

— THE HUSKIES AND COUGARS have played just twice before, a home-and-home series UConn swept in 1999-2000 and 2000-01.

The first of those games, which came against the Clyde Drexler-coached Cougars (remember when Clyde coached??), was played here at Hofheinz Pavilion. UConn had a huge lead (28 points) that nearly disappeared.

— WITH THE ADDITION of a pair of Texas schools to UConn’s conference opponents, Ollie was asked if it helps UConn recruit in the area.

“It definitely helps. They get to see UConn,” Ollie said. “A seventh-grader could come in and fall in love with Shabazz (Napier). It helps to have a team in your backyard.”

Not that the Huskies needed an “in” in Houston before now.

“We haven’t done too bad here. We got three big guys out of here,” Ollie said of Jake Voskuhl (Katy), Emeka Okafor (Bellaire) and Hasheem Thabeet (Cyprus Community Christian). “We have some roots here in Houston.”

— NAPIER NOW HAS 1,424 points in his UConn career, the 19th-highest total in school history. Against Houston Napier is almost certain to pass Houston native Emeka Okafor (1,426) for 18th.

Napier also has 523 career assists, good for sixth all-time at the school. A big game tonight could move him past the No. 5 man on that list, current UConn assistant coach Karl Hobbs (534).

Napier leads the Huskies in points, rebounds and assists this season. No player in UConn basketball history has lead the team in all three for an entire season.

It’s not by design. Well, not really.

“The biggest thing I can do is guarantee my effort every day and night,” Napier said. “I try my best. I’ve been playing this game for a while now so I understand what I’m good at, what I’m not good at. I try to do what’s best for the team. If it’s me rebounding, then I have to do it. I don’t care too much about scoring. I’d rather DeAndre be up there in the scoring column.”


The three bad guys who invaded “Planet Houston” a few decades ago.

— FOR SOME REASON UConn dropped two more spots in the latest AP rankings. The Huskies are now 17th.

Now, polls aren’t that big a deal and I’m not saying UConn “has to” be ranked higher but why does a team that went 1-0 with a relatively easy win get moved down two spots? Weird.

“I don’t know what it is. I guess people don’t like UConn,” DeAndre Daniels said. “We try not to pay attention to that stuff, though.”

— FOR THOSE WHO didn’t get the reference with the title of this blog, here’s a photographic clue. If you still don’t get it, well, you’ve led a sheltered life and should be proud.



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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