Little Man, Big Push

Boatright soaring to his powerful dunk

DeAndre Daniels led four Connecticut players who scored in double figures Tuesday night on the way to a 99-78 Big East victory over DePaul in UConn's home opener in conference play.

STORRS, Conn. – A box score provides a great deal of information about a basketball game, but it doesn't tell the entire story.

One look at the statistics from Connecticut's 99-78 victory over DePaul Tuesday night and it's clear that forward DeAndre Daniels was the scoring star for the winning side.

Daniels bounced back from a lackluster effort against Marquette last week, when coach Kevin Ollie benched him and essentially forgot about him. Daniels responded Tuesday like a pro. He had a career-high 26 points, eight rebounds (including a career high four on the offensive end), one block and one steal in 30 minutes.

"Hopefully, it's not just a moment," Ollie said. "Hopefully we can get this over a consistent period of time."

But there was much more to celebrate in the UConn camp.

Guard Ryan Boatright had 22 points and led the Huskies with three 3-pointers. Shabazz Napier contributed a sensational line with 16 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals. Tyler Olander chipped in with a season-high 10 points and five rebounds in 16 minutes.

Nine players scored for UConn (11-3, 1-1 Big East) as the Huskies picked up their first Big East win of the season and Ollie recorded the first conference win of his coaching career. The Huskies had a season high 49 rebounds to beat DePaul (10-6, 1-2) by 20 on the boards. And the last time UConn scored as many points in Big East game was Feb. 11, 2006 in a 99-57 victory at Seton Hall.

That 2006 UConn team had five players taken in the NBA draft.

"Just a great effort by everybody," Ollie said. "Everybody came in and contributed. I was proud of all of our guys."

It was a team effort – without a doubt. But every team effort begins somewhere. And the crowd (announced at 9,156) at Gampel Pavilion and those watching on TV surely had to notice that Boatright was the spark that lit UConn's flame. The way he attacked the basket set UConn's tone from the very first minute.

And when he Boatright does that, this UConn team isn't as bad as some people think. In fact, Ollie's Huskies are a lot of fun to watch with Boatright pushing them to play their best.

"He's one of the fastest guys I've ever been around," Ollie said. "I've been around Allen Iverson. I'm not saying he's faster than Allen Iverson, but when he pushes it and plays with that force and plays with that pace, we're tough to beat. "Not only does he get up and down the court very, very fast, he explodes and he gets to the rim. It's not like he's a little guy going in there, he's a little guy with power. He's going to the rim, he's attacking the rim and then he's making passes."

UConn's sophomore guard is listed on the roster at 6 feet, but it is widely accepted he isn't that tall. Asked for an accurate measurement Tuesday night, Boatright laughed and said, ‘No comment." But there he was Tuesday night, not only showing off the quickest first step to the basket, but also hitting a twisting one-handed dunk that would make any 6-8 power forward jealous.

Napier said he has measured his teammate but he wouldn't reveal the results either.

"He's just so athletic," Napier said. "This guy Boatright has athletic ability to the T. He jumps and jumps. We had practice at 9 o'clock [in the morning] and he woke up dunking. I said, ‘How do you do that?' I can barely get out of bed."

Boatright's freshman season was a nightmare, in large part because of two NCAA eligibility suspensions that prevented him from ever getting into a rhythm. Now his confidence has translated into leadership ability.

"It's a lot higher just because KO instilled that confidence in me," Boatright said. "I feel a lot more comfortable. I feel like I've got a lot more freedom and I can play my game of basketball. Plus, me and Shabazz are clicking right now. We're getting along so well. I think it all came together for me this year."

Napier understands the importance of Boatright pushing the ball.

"It makes it easier for everybody," Napier said. "Now, he's pushing the defense back on their heels. It's much easier to score for everybody."

DePaul was playing without two starters. Forward Donnavan Kirk (6.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg) and guard Charles McKinney (5.3, 2.1) were suspended for unspecified violations of team rules. Kirk has 29 blocks this season and has hit 20 of 26 shots from the free throw line. McKinney averages 19.3 minutes and shoots almost 52 percent from the field. Center Derrell Robertson Jr. and freshman guard Durrell McDonald started in their place.

But the Blue Demons did have their two best players on the floor in Cleveland Melvin (18 points) and guard Brandon Young, who hit 13 of 22 shots on the way to a career-high 35 points. DePaul was down 20 points at halftime and that might have been worse if not for Young, who hit 6 of 11 shots and scored 17 points in the first half. Daniels and Niels Giffey took turns guard Melvin and held him under control, especially in the first half.

UConn scored the first nine points of the game, pulling ahead 9-0 on a three-point play by Boatright, who scored on layup and was fouled. DePaul didn't get on the scoreboard until Melvin hit a three with 17:30 remaining.

Daniels scored eight of UConn's first 20 points. Napier hit a three to give UConn an 18-6 lead and Daniels followed that up with a basket to make it 20-9.A put back by Enosch Wolf with 13:36 remaining started the Huskies on an 11-0 run that ended with a three by Boatright with 11:27 left in the first half. That gave the Huskies their first 20-point lead of the game at 31-11.

DePaul thrives on defensive pressure. The day before the game, Boatright said he calls pressure defense "layup city" and talked about how his eyes light up in that situation. With him and Napier running the show and the Huskies scoring easily against DePaul's halfcourt defense, the press was never a factor.

"They're not the easiest guys to press, but we got it up some," DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. "But we didn't score at the beginning. You can't press if you don't score.

"Seventy-eight [points] in a college basketball game is not that bad. It should be a close game. But when you're giving up that many offensive rebounds, that many high percentage shots, it makes it hard – if not impossible – to win."

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