Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Career Night for DeAndre Daniels; Bad Hoop by Leon Tolksdorf

Tonight was about UConn avoiding its first 0-2 start in Big East play in 23 years and thumping a DePaul team that was missing two starters due to a violation of team rules.

It was about putting up 99 points (most in a Big East regular season game since a 99-57 win over Seton Hall on Feb. 11, 2006), it was about outrebounding the Demons by a whopping 49-29 (including 30 first-half boards and 19 offensive rebounds for the game).

And it was about Kevin Ollie's first Big East win as head coach.

But mostly, it was about DeAndre Daniels, who finished with a career-high 26 points. The sophomore forward sat out nearly all of the final 17 minutes of UConn’s overtime loss at Marquette a week earlier and finished with just one rebound that night.

Somewhat spurred by that poor effort, Daniels had a strong week of practice – even getting in a minor tussle with close friend Ryan Boatright – and emerged with a career effort on Tuesday. He shot 9-for-12 from the floor, grabbed a team-high eight rebounds and helped hold DePaul leading scorer Cleveland Melvin ineffective for most of the night.

“I wasn’t angry, I just came back working even harder, just boxing out and trying to rebound,” Daniels said. “Obviously, if you rebound, you’re going to play a lot of minutes. That’s what I was focusing on, and being aggressive.”

Daniels, a slender 6-foot-8 swingman, often has the tendency to settle for 3-pointers and jumpers. But he was far more assertive taking the ball to the hole against the Blue Demons.

“Sometimes, I tend not to be aggressive and just try to get the ball to Bazz and Ryan,” Daniels said. “But I was pretty aggressive tonight.”

Added Ollie: “He wanted to score. He wasn’t just out there playing, he wanted to score. Hopefully, we can get this over a consistent period of time.”

Ollie insisted that Daniels' essential benching in the second half and OT at Marquette had more to do with what Niels Giffey was doing than what Daniels wasn't doing.

“I just told him – Niels was playing great. It wasn’t anything against DeAndre, it’s just Niels was playing great. He was doing everything I wanted him to do. I couldn’t get DeAndre back in the game. But, it was DeAndre’s turn, next man up, that’s how we’re going to play.”

And Ollie was impressed with how Daniels admitted to the media Monday in practice that the coach was right, and taking responsibility for his own subpar play that night in Milwaukee.

“If you have that attitude and take total responsibility, no matter if it’s your fault or somebody else’s fault, that’s how you become a great player and a great individual," Ollie said. "He took the onus on himself. He didn’t say, ‘Coach Ollie is dogging me,’ he didn’t blame Coach Blaney or anybody. He went out and played today.”

Added Tyler Olander: “DeAndre’s always focused. He’s one of the hardest workers, if not the hardest worker. He’s in the gym all the time. There are going to be games, like against Marquette, when you’re not as productive. But, I think he really turned it around and was really focused. He put up extra shots (in practice), and just had a great game.”

*** Boatright and Daniels, best friends and roommates, can't get out of each other's way lately. Daniels was sporting an ice pack on his shoulder after the game, a result of being kicked by Boatright (mistakenly) while the guard threw down a dunk during Tuesday's shootaround.

“We’ve been running into each other lately," Boatright quipped. "We ran into each other like four times (tonight).”

*** Tuesday night was also about Leon Tolksdorf -- a little. In the final seconds of the blowout, Tolksdorf found himself with the ball, put it through his legs and hit a jumper for his lone two points of the game. It seemed like piling on, and Ollie seemed displeased at first, but apparently forgave him.

“I wanted to stop him but deep in my heart I was like, ‘Go Leon,'" Ollie admitted. "He did a good job – through the legs, pull-up. I was happy to see everybody come in and contribute.”

Still, Tolksdorf got a talking-to from his teammates.

“We just told him, ‘You don’t really need that,'" Olander said. "We understand what he was trying to do, but it’s just not the right time. You’ve got to respect your opponents ... I think he was just trying to make the most of his minutes. You can’t blame him.”

*** Asked if Boatright was ready for the NBA, a pro scout in attendance emphatically said, “No,” but added that if he stays another year and keeps improving, he could be a lottery pick. Scouts love Boatright’s speed – and so does Ollie.

“He’s one of the fastest guys I’ve ever been around, and I played with Allen Iverson,” the coach said. “Not saying he’s as fast as Allen Iverson, but … he explodes. He's a little guy, with power."

*** The Notre Dame Prep team sat behind UConn's bench for the game, but the Huskies aren't recruiting anyone from that team this year. It was as much a goodwill move as anything.

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