The 18th-ranked Huskies snuck out of the Barclays Center Friday night with a 78-77 win over Maryland in the season opener. But the game never should have been that close for a veteran UConn team that dominated for most of the evening.
UConn led by 17 points midway through the second half and then senior guard Shabazz Napier was called for a technical foul. Napier would eventually foul out with 1:30 left and the game still hanging in the balance but the Huskies' experienced veterans staved off a late Terps rally. Coach Kevin Ollie used 10 players and all 10 players scored.
"It means we're deep," junior guard Ryan Boatright said, who scored 9 points. "Everybody can come in and contribute in whatever way they need to for us to get a win."
"Sky's the limit," added senior big man Tyler Olander, who came on late to make a big three-pointer (that's not a typo). "We have so many different weapons, so many people who can do different things and play different positions. Niels [Giffey] and DeAndre [Daniels] can play different positions. Me or Phil [Nolan] can play [power forward or center]."
And while the juniors and seniors held down the fort, the newcomers played integral roles as well. Freshman guard Terrance Samuel proved to be a steadying force in Napier's absence, big man Amida Brimah added three blocks and three rebounds, and transfer Lasan Kromah provided athleticism and solid defense from the off-guard/small-forward position.
Overall, Ollie was pleased with his team's effort, especially the play of his backcourt.
"I like Shabazz running the point," the coach said. "I like his vision. But if you look, Boatright is playing point guard, too. I'll run a lot of plays with Boatright. They're interchangeable, and Terrence came in for some, too. I think I've got three legitimate point guards, and they're only going to get better."
Ollie also has a problem he never faced a season ago: A deep bench.
"I know everybody on this team could play a whole different role if we were at a different school," senior Niels Giffey said. "But that shows the mentality of our guys, Lasan had a great first half, I had a great first half and then we were on the bench for 10 minutes -- but it doesn't matter as long as we win."
And that's the point: This Huskies team is on a mission after last year's NCAA sanctions. And whatever it takes to win -- even if that means fewer minutes for everybody involved -- that's what they will be willing to do.
"Last year, Shabazz and me had to do so much that when we got gassed it seemed like nobody could step up," Boatright said. "Tonight, we got a little bit gassed and guys were able to step up."