The No. 9 Huskies eked out a 79-71 victory over Fairfield Thursday, giving Jim Calhoun an early Christmas present before he begins his three-game suspension for NCAA recruiting violations. The team doesn't play again until next Wednesday when they travel to Tampa, Florida to face UCF in their first Big East contest of the season.
On Wednesday, Calhoun announced that longtime assistant George Blaney would assume the head-coaching duties in his absence.
"It will be George," Calhoun told Joe D'Ambrosio during his weekly appearance on 1080's SportsTalk (via the Hartford Courant). "He will need to have his own voice. Maybe having me not physically present will be best for the team."
According to the Courant, Calhoun was leaning towards Blaney, who is 71, but had to first make sure he would be up for it. There had been speculation in recent weeks that Kevin Ollie might get the nod; even though he's short on experience, many people think he'll replace Calhoun when he eventually retires.
Calhoun plans to coach practices through Christmas evening and then he'll have no contact with the team while he serves his three-game suspension. The Huskies play St. John's on New Year's Eve and Seton Hall on January 3. Calhoun will be back on the bench when UConn faces Rutgers on January 7.
As for Thursday's win over Fairfield, the Huskies led by 20 points at the half before things got sloppy. The Stags took advantage and cut the lead to 61-48 with 9:29 to go, and by the time it was over they outscored UConn 45-33 in the second half.
Shabazz Napier led all scorers with 24 points, Jeremy Lamb added 18 and freshman Andre Drummond had 16. For the Stags, Rakim Sanders had 20, Sean Crawford 14 and Derek Needham 12, who now fall to 7-5 after winning four games in a row.
One of the story lines heading into this game was Tyler Olander facing his brother, Ryan, for the first time in an organized game. Neither scored in the first half (Ryan started for Fairfield; Tyler wasn't among the Huskies' starting five), but Ryan's dunk midway through the second half cut UConn's lead to 13.
By the time it was over, Ryan had eight points and Tyler added two more.
According to the Associated Press, UConn is now 118-4 against New England teams outside the Big East, and has won 65 consecutive games against in-state competition.