UConn escapes

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Harvard guard/forward Wesley Saunders greets teammates during layup lines before the UConn game. Saunders, Harvard’s leading scorer and best player, missed the game with a knee injury.

 

Rarely has a win over Harvard been so important to the UConn basketball team. But Wednesday’s 61-56 win over the Crimson was big for the Huskies, no doubt.

A three-game losing streak would have been a rough way to start 2014.

— THE HUSKIES SURVIVED a horrid shooting night and a turnover-fest to win. But not before Shabazz Napier put them up eight with a pair of 3-pointers then they hung on through some bone-headed fouls in the final minute.

UConn coach Kevin Ollie said his team relaxed after playing tight in the first half.

“We had a lot of extra weight on our shoulders,” Ollie said. “I just told the guys to relax and have fun and play the game. If you win or lose, you just play together and you play relaxed. When you play relaxed you have a better opportunity to play to your strengths.

“When you’re playing with fear and you’re scared to make a mistake or ‘what’s going to happen if we lose,’ you can’t play like that. They relaxed in the second half.”

Napier couldn’t explain what the Huskies’ play was like in the first half.

“We kind of played like we had to win, like if we didn’t win we were all going to die or something,” Napier said. “It was definitely tough.”

— A BIT OF DAMPER was put on the game before it began when we learned Wesley Saunders, Harvard’s best player, wouldn’t play because of a knee injury.

Saunders was averaging 15.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists for the Crimson.

“We were going to say ‘Ah, he’s not playing. We’re going to take our foot off the gas pedal,’ ” Ollie said.

Said Napier: “We found out when we were doing our warm-ups. We saw that he was not dressed for the game. But we played against Houston and they didn’t have three of their starters so we didn’t think it was going to be an easy task.”

Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, whose team dealt with major lineup changes last year, said his team didn’t feel sorry for itself either.

“We were going to make it work with who we had. We were confident that we had an opportunity. Think about what we had to do last year,” Amaker said, referring to the season-long academic suspensions Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey. “We’re not fazed by missing a player.

“Obviously he’s a terrific player and does a lot of things for our team. We’d love to have him. But given the circumstances, I felt our guys were locked in. I didn’t sense any letdown.”

Saunders apparently felt something during Harvard’s shootaround earlier Wednesday.

“I didn’t know (that he wouldn’t play) until this afternoon, right after our pre-game meal,” Amaker said.

Neill

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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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