It doesn't count in the standings but heading into a season where expectations are low, a win is a win. And for the Huskies, that includes their 78-63 exhibition opener victory over American International College in Gampel Pavilion.
It wasn't pretty early, but that could serve as a metaphor for the season. AIC led 12-2 through the first 5:41 and were up 23-14 with just over 6:30 in the first half. But the Huskies closed the half down one, 29-28, then exploded in the final 20 minutes, outscoring AIC 50-34 thanks in large part to freshman Omar Calhoun scoring 21 of this game-high 24 points, and DeAndre Daniels and Tyler Olander combining for 17 rebounds.
"Nobody said it was going to be easy, and it wasn’t easy out there tonight," said Kevin Ollie, coaching in his first game in the post-Jim Calhoun era. "And I praise AIC for coming out there and giving us a great game. But now we’ve got a foundation to build upon …
This is a process," Ollie continued. "We’re going to keep building, we’re going to keep playing the right way, we’re going to respect the game, we’re going to respect this great university and we’re going to go out there and play with effort. They did that in spurts. We’re going to have to do it for 40 minutes and try to sustain it."
Calhoun may not have been on the bench but he was close by -- sitting on the baseline with athletic director Warde Manuel. The difference: we saw none of the fiery Calhoun that had patrolled the bench for a quarter-century. This is Ollie's team now, something Calhoun fully embraces, which explains why he face lacked emotion as the Huskies stumbled out of the gate.
Guard Ryan Boatright admitted that (via the Hartford Courant) "Coach Calhoun would've let us know about our mistakes in a way different way. The fans would've gotten a show."
But those days have passed. Ollie's in charge now and while the goals remain the same, the path to get there is different.
"He just kept it positive," said Daniels. "He said, 'We're just not playing our game, we have to play much harder, we're not giving effort and we're not talking on defense.' … It was just him talking to us and telling us what we needed to do."
Ollie will have plenty of opportunities to "go Calhoun" on his players if he so chooses. But for one night there was no need. The Huskies got down early, fought back late and ultimately, were winners. If the rest of the season loosely follows this script, Ollie would take it. And so would everyone else.