It’s a big weekend for the UConn basketball team. An 0-2 start in AAC play has put the Huskies in an early hole.
Of course, the Huskies have yet to play a conference home game. When Central Florida comes to town for a Saturday evening tilt, it will be the first-ever American game in Gampel Pavilion. (It’s also UCF’s first conference road game).
A few notes and quotes on the matchup:
— HE KNOWS THE history and UConn coach Kevin Ollie knows the spot his Huskies are in when it comes to league play.
“Hopefully we can get our first conference win and we can roll them off kind of like that 89-90 team when they went 0-2 then won the conference,” Ollie said Friday.
— A GOOD STAT from the esteemed Gavin Keefe: UConn G Shabazz Napier has played all but 14 minutes over the Huskies’ last six games.
Is Ollie concerned, especially because Napier’s knee has appeared to have been bothering him more lately?
“He’s taking care of his body great,” Ollie said. “He worked out before the season started with the soccer team and I think he’s in incredible shape.
“It’s something I’m looking at but he’s not 41 like I am. He’s a young man and he’s got lots of basketball ahead of him.”
— OLLIE WAS ASKED what guys like Phil Nolan and Omar Calhoun have to do to get back in the thick of things.
The biggest challenge for Nolan, it seems, is recovering from a cold he had a few weeks back.
“Phil has to get back in shape. I think that sickness took a lot out of him,” Ollie said. “He has to get his stamina back.”
— I HAD A chance to talk with UCF coach Donnie Jones on Thursday night. For starters, he says the 2011 game these teams played in the Bahamas (where UCF beat the then-defending national champs in the Battle 4 Atlantis) won’t have much bearing on Saturday’s game.
“I think we’re both completely different teams,” Jones said.
But, Jones still likes to remember that game and certainly uses it in recruiting.
“I think any time you have a chance to beat a program like UConn, it does wonders for a program that’s trying to build tradition and wins,” Jones said. “It’s something to always point to. Obviously to play at that level is a great bench mark for us.”
— UCF WAS CALLED a “sleeping giant” by Rick Pitino in the preseason.
The school’s location (sunny Florida), size (more than 60,000 students, the second-largest school in the U.S.) and facilities (pretty sweet, from what I gather) makes the basketball team a potential winner over the long haul.
Pitino was heaping a little playful pressure on his colleague but in many ways he’s right.
“Just because you have nice weather and nice facilities doesn’t guarantee victory,” Jones said. “But we do have the potential to be very good for a lot of years.”
— JONES IS A longtime associated of Florida’s Billy Donovan. Jones was on Donovan’s staff at Marshall and then at Florida, leaving after the second of the Gators back-to-back titles. He’s been the head coach at UCF since 2010.
Florida just played UConn, an nearly knocked the Huskies off in Storrs, so did he call his old friend Billy to talk about the Huskies?
“I haven’t spoken to him about that lately,” Jones says with a laugh. “I’ve watched enough film on them (Huskies) to know what we’re facing.”
Containing the likes of Napier and Ryan Boatright would be a start.
“It starts with those two guys. Everybody who plays against them knows that,” Jones said. “They run the whole show and the rest of them feed off them.”
— THE BIG GUN for UCF is senior swingman Isaiah Sykes. He can do a bit of everthing.
He’s one of two players in college basketball right now with more than one triple-double to his name. He and Napier have two each.
“He is Mr. everything. He’s a very good defender. He can play multiple positions, one, two and three,” Jones said of Sykes, who averages 15 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. “He can score, he can defend, he can pass. He’s a unique player. When he goes, a lot of times we go.”
Sykes is UCF’s best player but not a great shooter. He’s taken only 11 3-point shots (making four) and he’s hitting 44.6 percent of his free throws.
“He’s a walking triple-double. We’re going to have to limit his touches,” Ollie said of Sykes, adding that his team has to be aware that Sykes likes to drive to his left and finish with his left hand.