A steal by Enosch Wolf, a pass ahead to Ryan Boatright, who dished up behind his back to Omar Calhoun for a layup — this was UConn's brand of basketball for much of Friday night.
That basket gave UConn a 32-point lead, and the Huskies were playing like they hadn't a care in the world. And, of course, that's when things start to go the other way.
"We played to the scoreboard," coach Kevin Ollie said. "We stopped playing basketball, we stopped sharing the basketball, we stopped rebounding. … We let them get back in the game and get layup after layup after layup."
Fordham began pounding the Huskies where they are weak — on the boards — and made the game a little too interesting for UConn's taste. But UConn steadied and won 88-73 before 10,265 at the XL Center.
"Fortunately, we came out with the win," Ollie said. "Fortunately, we came out and played very well and very aggressively and shared the basketball in the first half. I'll take the win."
Boatright scored 26 points, a career high, Shabazz Napier had 19 and Omar Calhoun scored 17 as the UConn backcourt put on a first-half clinic. At one point, UConn had 16 assists on 21 baskets, and only two turnovers.
"We know that Napier and Boatright can dominate a game," Fordham coach Tom Pecora said. "The turnovers, and especially the points off turnovers — whenever they get a turnover, they go on the break and they just attack. That's UConn basketball, and it always has been."
The Huskies (9-2) took control of the game with a 14-0 run in the first half. With the score tied at 15, Calhoun hit a three-pointer to begin the spurt, and R.J. Evans hit a three to finish it, giving the Huskies a 29-15 lead.
"We were all knocking down shots," said Boatright, who had 19 points and seven assists in the first half. "We were sharing the ball. We just played UConn basketball in the first half."
On the defensive end, the Huskies were ball-hawking, getting 10 steals. With 21 points off turnovers, UConn took a 57-28 lead into the break.
"It's easy to play hard and play well after you get you're butts whipped and you're down 29 points," Pecora said. "I told our players, 'If I have to coach effort, we're not going to be very good.'"
The second half looked to be more of the same when UConn opened its biggest lead at 63-31 with 18:14 left. At that point, the Huskies, who have been outrebounded in 10 of their 11 games, actually had an edge on the boards, 18-17.
"We were shooting the ball particularly well," Ollie said. "We were getting in the gaps, we were making them shift from side to side. We were moving the basketball — it was beautiful to watch."
The rebounding edge lasted 27 seconds. Over the next 5:13, Fordham outrebounded UConn 10-0, and outscored them 19-0. At the Rams' end, Chris Gaston blocked a shot, Ryan Canty got the rebound and Gaston put in the second-chance points to cut the Huskies' lead to 63-50. And the XL crowd was getting understandably restless.
"We were just playing the scoreboard," Boatright said. "We started to get flat, we didn't come out with the same intensity we had in the first half and it showed."
Evans, who scored nine points off the bench, made a steal and scored to stop the trend. Then Niels Giffey made a steal and Boatright ended up with a layup to restore the lead to 17. Fordham never got closer than 13. Two free throws by Boatright put UConn ahead 77-54 with 7:19 left.
"In the second half, they dominated us on the backboards," Ollie said. "But we did some things to mask it, like we've been doing — 15 steals, we made them commit 21 turnovers. But I wasn't happy with our performance in the second half. We relaxed instead of going full speed at them, and continuing to do what we did in the first half. … We were on our way to a nice victory, but they made it interesting."
Brendan Frazier scored 26 for Fordham (2-9).
UConn was outrebounded 40-28, but the 35 points off Fordham turnovers was the difference in the game. The Huskies finished with 28 assists, including six from Napier. But Napier also led UConn in rebounding with seven; the front court was led by DeAndre Daniels with 10 points and Tyler Olander, with six rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench.
The Huskies are now done with mid-majors. They have Washington on Dec. 29, then the Big East.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times