Career Game for Tyler Olander; Boatright's Alley-Oop Dunk Was Set Play; UConn Snaps Another Notre Dame Streak
That pretty much set the stage for a game in which Olander -- to the surprise of just about everyone -- outplayed perhaps the Big East's best all-around big man.
While Cooley finished with 14 points and nine rebounds, both were under his season averages (15.2, 11.2). Olander, meanwhile, put forth a career outing and by far the highlight of what's been, to date, a very disappointing junior season.
Olander scored a career-high 16 points on 8-for-9 shooting. He had a putback dunk in the first half, then proceeded to score 10 of UConn's first 15 points of the latter half. He grabbed seven rebounds and had a couple of huge defensive plays (a block of Jerian Grant's shot and a big rebound) in the final 35 seconds.
"I just wanted Tyler to go to work down there," said Kevin Ollie. "I know what he can do on the offensive end. It was a matchup where he could get deep, low-post position. Once you make a couple of layups, that rim got real big for him. He started making some jumpers -- just doing some things that we know TO can do."
Olander entered the game averaging just 4.6 points a contest. He'd had just one double-figure scoring game -- on Tuesday against DePaul -- but even those 10 points largely came in garbage time.
“It’s really rewarding," the Mansfield native said. "Things weren't really working out for me at the beginning of the season, but I just stuck with it, kept working hard, got in the gym and it feels good to have the hard work finally pay off.”
Added Ryan Boatright:“Tyler works extremely hard all the time, I’m just proud to see it pay off finally. He needed this. He’s got his confidence going now, so hopefully he can keep it going for the next few games.”
Ollie said he's seen a difference in Olander's overall demeanor lately.
“His self-fortitude, his belief that ‘I can get it done.’ Cooley is a big-time matchup, but I thought it was a standstill today. He stepped up, I’m so proud of him. But now, he can’t lay on it. He’s got to keep building on it.”
But, the coach continued: “It’s great to see him smile and have this type of game. I’m happy for him.”
*** One of the biggest -- and certainly the most electrifying -- plays of the game came about midway through the second half, when Shabazz Napier hit Boatright for an alley-oop dunk.
Cooley had just slammed home a putback with 7:59 to play to get the Irish to within two (50-48). Wasting no time, the Huskies killed any momentum Notre Dame could muster from the suddenly jacked-up, sellout crowd when Napier tossed a pass from beyond the 3-point arc and the 6-foot (not even) Boatright flew in for the slam.
It was actually a play UConn had set up during the prior timeout, before Cooley's dunk.
“It’s kind of funny because (Cooley) got the dunk, and we had already set the play up for Boatright to get his own dunk," Napier said. "Boatright said, ‘It’s gonna be open.’ I said, ‘I’m gonna throw it up to you, you’ve gotta catch it.’ (Cooley) got that dunk, he came back down, I said, ‘Man, we’re about to shut them up.’ He came off the pick, I saw him set him set his feet up, I lobbed it up there and he went up there and got it.”
Said Boatright: “My eyes kinda lit up. Once (Cooley) made that tip dunk, I knew I was coming back for a lob. I just wanted to go up there and get it.”
“I’ve been dunking a long time," Boatright added. "It’s just two points. It’s a dunk, and I just got back on defense.”
Well, not really: one of the refs seemed to warn Boatright about excessive celebration after the slam.
*** DeAndre Daniels had no points, no rebounds and a turnover at halftime. Then, he got a ... ahem ... "talking-to" from Ollie at the break.
What did the coach tell Daniels?
“I can’t say what I said," Ollie told the media, with a smile. "I give you all a lot, Coach Blaney gets mad at me. I can’t tell y’all that one, that’s my secret.”
Whatever he said, it worked. Daniels had eight points and a team-high nine rebounds in the latter half. He also made a key play late in the game that essentially sealed the Huskies' win, tipping a rebound out of Cooley's hands and flipping in a layup to give UConn a six-point lead with about 14 seconds left.
*** UConn snapped a 45-game Notre Dame home winning streak in 2009 and a 27-game Irish home win streak last season. Notre Dame had won 12 straiht entering Saturday's game. One more win would have set record during Brey's tenure.
In fact, the Irish have won 46 of their last 48 home games. Their two losses ...?
“When I stepped on the court, I looked up and it said 46-1," said Napier. "I gave myself a little chuckle, because I was thinking to myself, it’s gonna be 46-2.”