Celebration time

Ryan Boatright, Amida Brimah

UConn’s Ryan Boatright and Amida Brimah celebrate during the Huskies’ win over USF Wednesday night (AP Photo/Jessica Hill).

There was plenty for the UConn men’s basketball team to celebrate last night.

Not the least of which was head manager Nick Blanco’s wild celebration.

In case you missed it, here’s my story from today’s JI:

By Neill Ostrout

Journal Inquirer

HARTFORD _ The South Florida basketball team just wasn’t ready for Pat Lenehan.

Why should it have been?

Given the Bulls’ recent results there was a reasonable chance they might battle UConn down to the wire Wednesday night, not worry about having to guard practice players. Instead, the only question down the stretch was how many points Lenehan, the UConn walk-on guard and fan favorite, would score.

A junior from Middletown, Lenehan scored his first four career points and set off a raucous celebration in the final minutes of the 24th-ranked Huskies’ 83-40 trouncing of USF at the XL Center.

“I was more happy when Pat scored then when I scored,” said Kentan Facey, the UConn freshman forward who had a career-high 10 points of his own. “Because Pat, all our practice players and walk-on guys, they come in and push us every day. They work extremely hard.”

Facey wasn’t the only one excited. After Lenehan stroked a 3-pointer with 2:58 left in the game for the Huskies’ final points, UConn head manager Nick Blanco broke out a full on windmill, fist-pumping, screaming combination on the end of the bench that appeared worthy to celebrate a buzzer-beater in the Sweet 16.

USF may not have seen Lenehan coming but perhaps the Huskies (19-5, 7-4) did. Wednesday was the first time this season in which Lenehan sported a jersey with his name stitched across the back.

“We got Pat’s name back on his jersey. I like that,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “My mom got on me. She said ‘You have to get the walk-on’s names on their jerseys.’ I made sure we got that done.

“He does a great job for us. He’s selfless,” Ollie said of Lenehan, who outscored two of USF’s starters. “Sometimes I have him out there on defense the whole day, the whole practice and they don’t ever give me a peep.”

A peep is about all the Bulls (12-13, 3-9) made as the Huskies steamrolled their way to an easy win. UConn led by 31 at the half, by 40 within a few minutes of play in the second half and eventually by as much as 47.

Only a rather furious rally kept South Florida from a number of dubious scoring records. As it was, the 40 points were the third-fewest in the history of the USF program, which began in 1971.

“It was just a bad game. Nothing went well for us at all,” USF coach Stan Heath said. “It seemed like all my point guards had two fouls in the first three minutes. I’m looking around like ‘Who the heck can I put in?’ ”

His choices appeared limited. Ollie’s options seemed limitless.

“Everybody that stepped on the court got a basket. I think that’s amazing,” Ollie said. “We had 24 assists on 28 made field goals, that’s amazing.”

DeAndre Daniels led the Huskies with 12 points. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright added nine each and Terrence Samuel added a career-best eight.

South Florida scored only 14 points in the first half, by far the lowest by a UConn opponent in any half this season and just three shy of the all-time low.

The Bulls missed 19 of their 23 shots in the first half. They also missed seven of their 13 free throws. Oh, and when they weren’t missing the Bulls were turning it over. They had nine of those in the opening stanza, too.

At the other end of the floor UConn has having its way. The Huskies scored inside and out hitting 64 percent of their shots.
Already ahead by 10 points, a 16-0 run midway through the first half gave UConn a surprising 33-7 lead.

Even when Napier picked up his second foul of the half with nine minutes left and Boatright did the same two minutes later, the Huskies hardly missed a beat. The backcourt combination of Lasan Kromah and Samuel only increased the lead.

“We didn’t lose any rhythm with our two best players on the bench,” Ollie said. “I thought Terrence did an amazing job.”

Kromah scored two baskets and assisted on another in the final minute of the half to personally direct a 6-0 run, capping it with a steal and breakaway dunk, to put UConn up 45-14 at the break.

“It didn’t appear Boatright and Napier had to do a whole lot but they got them off to the start they needed. Once that happened they were in a little bit of cruise control,” Heath said. “Everybody got comfortable and made a lot of shots. We didn’t give them much resistance on the defensive end.”

After a very quick stop in their locker room for halftime, the Huskies came out of the gates to start the second half with nearly as much fire. A 6-1 spurt put them up 51-45 and an 11-0 run moments later gave them a remarkable 45-point cushion.
Ollie’s brief halftime speech apparently registered with the players.

“He was just saying ‘Don’t take your foot off the gas pedal. Make sure you go back out there with the same intensity as in the first half,’ ” Kromah said.

The only question at that point in the game was when Lenehan and fellow walk-on Nnamdi Amilo would enter the fray and how much damage could they do. The answers, surprisingly, were A) with five minutes still to play; and B) quite a bit.

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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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