It's no surprise that the Huskies had little trouble with Columbia in their 2011-12 regular-season opener at Gampel Pavilion Friday night, and it's even less surprising that coach Jim Calhoun didn't spend his post-game press conference applauding the efforts his young squad, one that's seven months removed from a national title. Instead, Calhoun was pithy and frank in his assessment of UConn's performance on the boards: "Awful."
Thank you and goodnight.
But there was plenty to be excited about, starting with sophomore Jeremy Lamb, who led all scorers with 30 points. Lamb, a preseason All-American, has assumed the role of go-to guy vacated by Kemba Walker, who is now in NBA purgatory.
"It was tough," Lamb said afterwards. "They played me well. They were real physical with me. They had good defenders so I really had to use my screens. I can't say it came easy."
Perhaps even more impressive: point guard Shabazz Napier, whose game may have grown more than Lamb in the last seven or eight months. He scored 21 points and dished out eight assists, all without freshman Ryan Boatright serving as his backup.
Napier, much like Kemba last year, was on the court for almost the entire game, playing all but four minutes. Freshman walk-on Brendan Allen filled in for Boatright and he logged a rebound and a turnover.
"Guys like myself and Jeremy had to score a lot of points today," Napier said. "Hopefully, it's not going to be like that all the time. I tell my guys, 'I don't like scoring a lot of points.' I love passing the ball."
And Napier's comments lead to this:
Another freshman who didn't get in the scoring column: Andre Drummond, the best high school player in the country last year. He played 12 minutes, and never looked comfortable on the court. And neither did junior big man Alex Oriakhi. Maybe it's nerves, or offseason rust or just an off night. Whatever the reason, the Huskies' interior game was less than impressive. UConn, which had the clear advantage in skill and size, only outrebounded the Lions, 43-41. Even worse: Columbia doubled-up UConn on the offensive boards, 20-10.
"Congratulations to Columbia," Calhoun said Friday night. "They certainly outworked us. They had 20 offensive rebounds. C.W. Post had 23...the last game we played."
When asked about the Huskies' frontcourt Calhoun had kind words for one player: Tyler Olander.
"We don't have anybody in the front court that can play right now, or is ready to play right now, except for Tyler, who understands how to play basketball. Tyler was our anchor for the whole first half. And then he got tired."
Luckily, there's still Lamb and Napier.
"Our two guards did a great job considering the fact they can't come out of the game, because we don't have replacements for them," said Calhoun. …"They certainly outworked and played much harder than we did, and I give them a great deal of credit. If it wasn't for Jeremy making shots and Shabazz running the team, we would have been in serious trouble."
There is good news. First, things aren't nearly as dire as Calhoun's tone might suggest. Second, Drummond will get a lot better and Boatright should be able to play soon. Oh, and UConn is 1-0.