Friday, February 24, 2012

To Beat 'Cuse, Oriakhi, Drummond Must Play Big

The biggest key for UConn to pull off an upset victory over Syracuse on Saturday night might be the production of its big men, Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond.

Simply put, when Oriakhi and Drummond are productive offensively – particularly Oriakhi – UConn usually plays well. The Huskies are 5-3 when Oriakhi scores in double figures this season. They’re 4-1 when both Oriakhi and Drummond score 10 or more.

More to the point, think of UConn’s best overall performances this season: 77-40 over Holy Cross (Drummond had a career-high 24, Oriakhi 15), 83-69 over St. John’s (Drummond 16), 67-53 at Notre Dame (Oriakhi 12, Drummond 10), 80-54 over DePaul (Drummond 15, Oriakhi 14), 80-60 over Maine (Oriakhi season-high 16, Drummond 11).  

Not all of those foes are powerhouses, of course, but there’s little doubt that when the two big men play well, UConn usually follows suit. The only game UConn lost in which both Oriakhi and Drummond reached double figures was its 68-63 setback to Central Florida – a game the Huskies led by 17 early in the second half.

Oriakhi has been playing better lately, hitting double figures scoring in four of his last six games (including just his second double-double of the season).

Still, it’s been a disappointing season for the hulking junior forward. Why? Many attribute it to Drummond’s presence, and that the two haven’t learned to play together well. There’s some truth to that.

But UConn assistant coach Glen Miller gives a better reason why.

“We didn’t run a lot of plays for him last year, either,” Miller pointed out. “His big scoring games were games where he got out in transition, or where players dribble-penetrated into the lane, dumped the ball down to him, he takes a step into it and dunks it.”

In other words, Oriakhi really misses Kemba Walker.

Of course, Oriakhi also did a lot of his scoring off offensive rebounds a year ago. Not nearly as much this year. That can be attributed in large part to Drummond, who is grabbing a lot of the rebounds Oriakhi might have had.

Still, it’s more accurate to say that Oriakhi’s production has slipped because of the departure of Kemba Walker rather than the addition of Andre Drummond.

*** Despite the sellout crowd, the College GameDay atmosphere (Dickie V. in the house!) and the big-time opponent, UConn isn't expected, as of now, to have any visiting recruits at Gampel as of now.

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