For as many new faces there are on the UConn men’s basketball team — two graduate students and two freshmen — the Huskies seem like they’ve been playing together for a few years now.
In the season opener Friday night, the Huskies gave the sell-out crowd of 10,167 at Gampel Pavilion a glimpse of what is to come the rest of the year.
Four starters scored in double figures (11 different players scored) as No. 20 UConn rolled over the Maine Black Bears, 100-56, to open their season.
“I like how we shared the basketball,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said. “That’s the one thing I was happy about. That’s what I’ve really been stressing.”
The energy was electric in Gampel from the start. Thanks to three dunks and four blocked shots from Amida Brimah, the Huskies got out to an early 11-8 lead just 4:49 into the game.
UConn’s new point guard Sterling Gibbs scored seven straight points and then six more Husky points lengthened the lead to 27-13. The Huskies maintained a 15-point lead for most of the first half, until they went cold from the field.
The Huskies missed 6 of their last 7 shots to end the half and Maine found some energy, going on an 8-0 run in the last few minutes of the half to cut the lead to 42-30 at the break.
“I liked the fight. I just liked the fight,” Maine head coach Bob Walsh said. “We started wrestling some rebounds away from their big guys; we were running the floor hard, sharing the ball better. I just liked the fight we had in the first half, unfortunately we couldn’t find it in the second half.”
UConn opened the second half on an 11-0 run off the back of three straight Brimah alley-oops. The run would eventually get to 34-4.
“It was mainly just to keep the foot on the gas,” Gibbs said about the message in the locker room at half time. “We had let off a little bit toward the end of the first half but we wanted to just come out and be aggressive and dictate the tempo in the second half, which we did.”
The Black Bears (0-1) didn’t score a field goal in the second half until 15:06.
It didn’t matter who it was for UConn, everyone was putting in the same energy. Ollie once again played a multitude of lineups, all of which Maine had no answer for.
“Their depth is certainly an asset,” Walsh said.
UConn (1-0) outscored Maine 58-26 in the second half.
The Huskies had 16 fast break points and 54 points in the paint, taking advantage of a smaller Maine team.
“I thought we did a good job, I didn’t think the ball was sticking,” Ollie said of the team’s pace on offense. “We want to dribble and attack. I just thought we ran, our bigs ran. We’re a real good, athletic team when we get out and run like that and I thought our defense really set up our fast break offense.”
Gibbs led UConn with 20 points. Brimah added 18 points, nine blocks (one shy of the school record) and seven rebounds. Shonn Miller scored 17 points and had 10 rebounds. Rodney Purvis scored 10.
Daniel Hamilton almost had a triple-double with seven points, nine assists and nine rebounds.
“Daniel Hamilton was excellent,” Ollie said. “It wasn’t by scoring points, some of those passes that he made were just unselfish, great basketball. He looked like our point guard out there.”
UConn had 12 dunks Friday night, five of which were alley-oops.
Senior forward Till Gloger led Maine with 17 points and six rebounds. Freshman Isaac Vann added 10 and sophomore Kevin Little scored nine.
Ollie used everyone that dressed on Friday night, including the walk ons. Nine players played 13 minutes or more.
Walsh was hoping that with the new players that UConn brought in, they wouldn’t have their identity yet. He was hoping they wouldn’t be unified as a team this early in the season.
“Boy were we wrong about that,” he said.