UConn Men: Season-Opening Breeze Vs. Stony Brook
Conn sophomore forward/center Alex Oriakhi, 34, left, Stony Brook University's Chris Martin, 30, and UConn freshman forward Roscoe Smith, 22, battle for a rebound during first-half action during the Huskies' season-opening win on Nov. 12. (RICHARD MESSINA, HARTFORD COURANT / November 12, 2010)
Coming off a disappointing 2009-10 season that ended in the second round of the NIT, with three key seniors having departed and six (soon to be seven) freshmen joining the team, there was a great deal of curiosity surrounding the Huskies. How good would Kemba Walker become? Who are some of these new guys? Can the Huskies make the NCAA Tournament?
Stony Brook and coach Steve Pikiell, a Bristol native and former UConn player and assistant, came to Gampel for the season opener. And as Jim Calhoun likes to say, the lights were turned on.
From the newspaper of Nov. 13, 2010
By MIKE ANTHONY
STORRS -- A season opener is bound to leave a coach pondering all sorts of good and bad, which Jim Calhoun was left to do after UConn's breezy, but imperfect, victory over Stony Brook Friday at Gampel Pavilion.
But good defense supersedes all. It's one half of the game that can usually make a coach feel good on the whole.
So there sat a relaxed and content Calhoun in a press conference after the Huskies closed out a 79-52 victory before 8,319. He quickly glossed over the shortcomings of an offense that was, as he said, "just awful, awful," in the first half, and harped on the backbone of this victory and the signature of any successful team: smart, tough defense.
"I don't care who you're playing," Calhoun said. "We did it the way we've done it, historically. ... It was the first time we had resistance and the way we reacted to that was with pretty good defense."
Alex Oriakhi anchored the Huskies, posting his second career double-double with 11 points and a career-high 18 rebounds. His tip-in at the buzzer gave UConn a 39-31 halftime lead, and the Huskies rolled from there.
UConn went on a 21-4 run early in the second half and soon opened a 30-point lead. The Huskies held Stony Brook to five field goals on 33 attempts in the second half (15.2 percent) and finished with a 59-33 rebounding edge.
"Second half, we got cracked on the glass," Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell said. "They're bigger, a little quicker in spots. We really started forcing stuff. We got caught in a pickup game, and against Connecticut, they're always going to be better in a pickup game."
Kemba Walker was 6-for-17 and led UConn with 18 points. Shabazz Napier made four three-pointers for 12 points, and Jeremy Lamb scored 11. Jamal Coombs-McDaniel had nine points and seven rebounds.
Bryan Dougher had 13 of his 19 points in the first half for the Seawolves. The Huskies, who made eight of 23 three-pointers, were rather disjointed for a while as Walker was slow to get going. He started 1-for-8 from the field.
"We can't put that kind of pressure on him," Calhoun said. "We have to have other people step up. ... I thought [Stony Brook] played a good first half by staying in the game. We were rebounding like crazy, but we couldn't make a layup."
The Huskies got increasingly better on both sides. The defense and rebounding gained momentum and the offense eventually clicked, too. While freshmen Napier and Lamb showed particular spark, the decisive run was built with some of Calhoun's most experienced players on the court - Walker, Oriakhi, Coombs-McDaniel and Donnell Beverly.
"At halftime we just said, 'Pick it up,' " Oriakhi said. "Guys really dug deep and locked down."
Oriakhi said he wanted every rebound, and for a while he was nearly keeping pace with the entire Stony Brook team. His previous career high was 14, which he reached twice last season - against Maine and Hofstra.
"Alex stepped up big time on the glass and he owned it," Calhoun said.
"Oriakhi looked like a pro," Pikiell said.
UConn returns to play Wednesday against Vermont at the XL Center. Friday's victory was, Calhoun said, "another baby step forward."
The Huskies showed they can score, and make mistakes, in bunches. Calhoun made particular note of a made basket that actually underscored the team's need to make better decisions - a long, banked-in three by Napier in the first half.
But there were better signs in the second, not just on defense. After Stony Brook cut the lead to six, Beverly made a three-pointer and Oriakhi followed with a basket. The lead was 51-33 after a basket by Walker and soon 60-37 on yet another Walker score.
"It was a rough shooting night for me," Walker said. "I just wanted to continue to stay aggressive. ... We stayed tight, came together. We just stepped up our level of intensity."
And continued to lean on Oriakhi.
"If he continues to have these kind of nights, not necessarily 18 rebounds, if he's a double-double guy," Calhoun said, "that's putting pressure on him, but that's a pressure I think all of us would like on us -- and we're a different team."