Things could have gone better down the stretch, but there were some positives in Tuesday night's 69-65 loss to No. 25 NC State in Madison Square Garden, the biggest -- literally -- was the play of center Enosch Wolf. He scored 12 points and pulled nine rebounds in 21 minutes, a pleasant surprise for a player who had been relegated to spot duty to start the season.
"Seems like he likes the big stage," coach Kevin Ollie said after the game. "He has confidence, gets to his spots and knows his limitations, which is a great strength. He boxed out and played hard. He plays aggressively and we need that."
There was also the play of Shabazz Napier, who for the first time in three games actually showed up on the stat sheet in the first half. In fact, he had 15 points in the first 30 minutes, which had almost everything to do with the Huskies' early 20-9 lead. But the same problem that has haunted this team all season revealed itself again against the Wolfpack: rebounding -- or lack thereof.
NC State won the battle of the boards, 37-33, but it looked much more lopsided. Put anther way: the Wolfpack capitalized on second and third chances while the Huskies were often one-and-done on their offensive chances.
Part of the problem is that UConn lost four frontcourt players and Jeremy Lamb to either the NBA or other schools last spring. Which means there isn't much depth behind a pretty inexperienced group of starters. it also means that sophomore forward DeAndre Daniels is going to have to play with more consistency, particularly in the paint, if the Huskies are going to become more aggressive on the boards. We saw glimpses of Tuesday.
"(Daniels) is a very important part, it seems like he likes the big stage," Ollie said. "Whenever we are in a big game, he shows up big time. He has confidence and he gets to his spots and he knows his limitations, which a great strength of his; some other players don't know their limitations. He did a wonderful job and he boxed out and he was aggressive, and we need that.
"I told Tyler (Olander) his time is going to come. We use the words 'stay alive.' I told Tyler in trying times, you can't stop trying; he is going to do it. I have faith in the guys in the UConn jersey, they are going to keep playing hard and we are going to go out and get ready for Harvard."
We've said countless times before that there are no moral victories, but in the scheme of things, this wasn't a horrible loss, either. The Huskies are short on experience, long on youth and are in the untenable position of not having a postseason to play for. Still, Ollie has his kids motivated, even if they're occasionally out-executed.
“Our margin for error is not big," Ollie said, "and everybody in this room knows that. But we’re going to play tough.”
And really, that's all you can ask for.