Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Jim Who? Blaney's Halftime Rant Fired Up UConn

It was halftime of tonight's eventual 80-54 rout of awful DePaul, and the funniest thing happened: normally mild-mannered George Blaney decided to get all Jim Calhoun on the Huskies.

He had just watched UConn squander a 16-point lead down to 10 as it got sloppy and caught up in DePaul's ugly, frenetic style, and he wasn't happy.

"I really got on them pretty good at halftime," Blaney said. "It was all about just playing harder and harder and harder."

And make no mistake, Blaney's definition of "getting into them pretty good" wasn't too different from Calhoun's, according to all involved.

“He got into it,” Shabazz Napier reported. “You sit back and you’re like, ‘Wow, he’s yelling.’ Because Blaney doesn’t yell. I got guys in the hall and said, ‘Do y’all realize what just happened,’ because Blaney doesn’t usually yell at us, so we’ve got to play hard and give that extra effort. For him to be yelling, that means something must be going wrong. He really chewed us (out).”

Added Jeremy Lamb: "When we see him yell at us, we say we're definitely doing something wrong. So, we definitely tried to pick it up."

They did, outscoring DePaul 19-5 to start the latter half and never looking back. UConn's first 10 baskets of the second half were all either dunks or layups. Andre Drummond had five dunks alone in that span; the Huskies wound up with 10 overall for the game.

They actually had fun tonight, and it showed. When Drummond hit a rare free throw, the Gampel Pavilion crowd let out a mock cheer and Alex Oriakhi couldn’t contain the wide grin spread across his face.

Later, little-used 7-footer Enosch Wolf tipped in a missed shot for his first field goal of the season, again eliciting rowdy cheers from the student section.

Smiles, good times and alley-oops ruled the night.

“This is the way it should be,” Napier said after scoring 14 points and doling out a season-high 11 assists, several of them alley-oop hurls to Drummond. “Basketball is a sport where you can have fun. Win or lose, at the end of the day, you’re supposed to have fun playing it.”

“It was nice,” agreed Lamb. “Now, we’ve just got to focus on keeping it going.”

Lamb finished with a game-high 18 points, Drummond had 15 points and nine boards and Oriakhi notched just his second double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds. (He had 11 double-doubles last season).

Ryan Boatright dished out seven assists (UConn had 23 as a team on 33 baskets), and DeAndre Daniels, who didn’t play at all against Syracuse, knocked down a quick pair of 3-pointers and finished with eight points off the bench.

"I'm very pleased with his effort," Blaney said of Daniels. "He gives you that length, and the ability to rebound and block shots around the basket. He deserves more time based on his play today."

Blaney was effusive in his praise for Drummond, who was "the runner/jumper we all think he is ... and check this out: he guarded (Cleveland) Melvin the whole game and did a great job. That's a 6-11 guy playing a three-man who happens to play the four position."

"He's like Gronkowski," Blaney added, "he catches everything."

As for Napier: "I'm liking the way he's handling things on the floor. He's talking to peopl, keeping people in the game. More imprtant, he's pushing the ball at people. If he and Ryan can push the ball so much at people, that puts them back on their heels."

Said Napier: “I’m not here to pad my stats, I’m not here to claim my frame. I’m here to be a role player, to help the team win. When we win, we all look good … You can be the 12th man, the assistant coach, the trainer, the weight-lifting trainer. At the end of the day, everybody looks good because UConn looks good.”

UConn outrebounded DePaul 50-27, outscored it 44-26 in the paint and shot 63-percent (19-for-30) in the second half.

Oh, and it's worth saying again: DePaul really is awful. Some thought they'd be better this season. Not really.

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