Monday, December 20, 2010

No More Nigerian Nightmare?

Never mind his where-did-that-come-from?, 10-point, 5-rebound effort against Notre Dame last January: Charles Okwandu played "the best game I've seen him play in a Husky uniform" tonight, according to Jim Calhoun. "I don't care who he was playing against. He was there, physically."

Yes, it was just Coppin State, which didn't play a single player over 6-foot-8. Still, it was hard not to find a lot to like about Okwandu's effort on Monday: 9 points, 7 boards, 5 blocks ... even 2 assists and a steal!

Coincidence that the 7-foot Nigerian backed up his best week of practice, in Calhoun's view, with his best game as a Husky surrounding the arrival of fellow 7-footer Enosch Wolf? I think not.

"If that is the case, that's good," said Kemba Walker. "It was a great way to respond on his end."

Added Calhoun: "Does he feel the presence of Enosch? Yes, he does. And I think that's good."

The Huskies will certainly need good inside play from Okwandu, Wolf and Tyler Olander once Big East play starts next Monday in Pittsburgh. While it's hard to expect similar results consistently, it's worth praising Okwandu's effort while it lasts.

Okwandu entered the game with more fouls (7) than points (5) on the season. But after a heart-to-heart talk with Calhoun, followed by a good week of practice, Okwandu did a little of everything on Monday: a hook shot, powerful two-handed dunks, even a nifty interior pass to Wolf for the latter's first college basket.

"After the last game, I talked to Coach (and told him) that I wasn't enjoying playing," Okwandu said. "He made a promise that, if I kept working hard after practice, he's going to give me minutes. I started doing it, and it worked out for me."

As for Wolf, he finished with four points and a rebound in three minutes of action.

"It's difficult to judge him," Calhoun said, "but he knows how to play basketball. He was in the right spots."

Wolf entered the game with 45 seconds left in the first half and missed his first two shots, both at close range. But after re-entering the game with 9 minutes, 24 seconds left, he quickly scored an inside hoop on a nice pass from Okwandu.

"That's the thing I enjoyed most tonight, seeing him make his first basket," Okwandu said. "That's something I enjoyed."

Good to see that, if Okwandu does feel pushed by Wolf's presence, at least there are apparently no petty jealousies.

Wolf scored on a nifty reverse layup a short while later. Less than two minutes after that, he was out of the game for good.

A few other notes about UConn's 76-64 win:

***The Huskies outrebounded the Eagles, 58-29. They tore down 27 offensive boards.

***UConn shot just 3-for-16 (19 percent) on 3-pointers. Conversely, Coppin State shot 41 percent (11-for-27) and had whittled a 25-point deficit down to 10 with less than six minutes to play.

***UConn turned the ball over 15 times.

***Kevin Freeman was in the crowd and spoke to the Huskies after the game.

***Calhoun on Jeremy Lamb: "I think Jeremy, defensively, is awful right now. And getting awfully good on rebounding, and getting awfully good offensively. He's making an effort."

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