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Huskies thrive on zone, improve to 2-0 with 85-66 win over New Hampshire.

POSTED November 18, 2015
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

STORRS: In years past, the word zone was more than a four letter word, it was sometimes a nightmare for the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team.

The Huskies are certainly not alone in that thought, many a team struggles when a team uses that sometimes maddening defense.

On Tuesday night in their second game of the season, head coach Kevin Ollie and his team ran into a team from New Hampshire, that due to attrition, had no choice but to run it.

The result was one that should boost the confidence of a team that already looks like they have played together half a season after an impressive 85-66 win over the Wildcats in front of 9,047 at Gampel Pavilion.

“I’m glad we practiced our zone a little bit,” Ollie said, “It was good preparation for us. It was kind of like being in the dentist chair but our guys made 13-three’s and our defense was real, real good.”

The Wildcats were short-handed coming in to Storrs, forcing them to use zone the entire game, something they normally don’t do but by that action, may have helped the Huskies down the line.

“I’ve coached at the Division I level for 25 years,” head coach Bill Herrion said, “And not once in over 700 games did I play a whole game of zone.”

The Wildcats were down players and in order to try and keep the game close, went to the zone all game.

Fifth year senior Sterling Gibbs and redshirt junior Rodney Purvis feasted on the open outside looks, connecting on 10 of 19 tries.

Gibbs, who looks like he has been playing at UConn for all five of his years (he’s that comfortable) torched the ‘Cats for 18 first half points and finished with a game high 21, while Purvis added 20.

For the game the Huskies shot 30 for 57, something that pleased their head coach greatly.

“It’s really going to prepare us, shooting 52 percent against the zone,” Ollie said, “Especially it being so early in the season.”

Being able to adapt to the style of defense a team throws at them will be critical for the Huskies this year and so far, so good.

“To be able to play a different style will help us down the line,” Ollie said, “We have a team that can play in any type of game so I’m very proud of these guys.”

Sophomore Daniel Hamilton, who Herrion compared to Laker legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson based on his height at the guard position and ability to see the floor so well, had another terrific game with 13 points, 11 boards and six assists in just 24 minutes.

What has the head coach seen from his second year player and what does he expect from him?

“Any player of his caliber,” Ollie said, “We want him to get better. He’s just sharing the game and I think we made an emphasis in the preseason exhibition games to trust the offense. I thinks he’s really doing that.”

The chemistry on this team is remarkably cohesive considering how short a period of time they have been together.

“This is the time of the year when I’m trying to see what I have,” Ollie said, “I’m coaching that way when we go to play Furman and then when we go to play the Battle of Atlantis. The competition is going to keep getting better and better. So we will continue to play a lot of guys.”

Ollie continued on why they are working so well as a unit in short period of time.

“They’re just sharing the basketball,” Ollie said, “I think that’s the key. They are trusting each other. We put on the board ‘Trust the process, don’t rush the process’. I think they are allowing it to happen so they’re just not rushing to get baskets, they’re really trusting each other. They pass it to the open man with the UConn jersey on it. I don’t think we had two back to back games with 20 assists (vs. Maine) and 18 assists last year so I’m glad to see that.”

Gibbs is THAT player for the Huskies this year, at least if early returns are a true measurement, although he downplays it.

“I’m just trying to be myself,” Gibbs said, “I think in the beginning, one of the exhibition games, I wasn’t really attacking as much as I wanted to. I wasn’t really looking to get to the basket and make plays for others but I think coach really stressed that that’s what he wants me to do. I just really want to be the best version of myself.”

What he is has not been lost on his new teammates who it seems understand what they have.

“He’s a heady guy,” Purvis said of Gibbs, “He’s been through it all, he’s made several huge shots.”

Two games in, two impressive outings and contributions from 10 different players.

That’s as good a start as any UConn fan could have hoped for.

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