In a game that saw the UConn men’s basketball break triple digits and complete a half dozen alley oops, it may be odd to focus on the defense.
The Huskies blocked their most shots in a game in over 10 years and prevented Maine from scoring a field goal for nearly five minutes to start the second half.
Despite the high-flying dunks and dynamite offensive production, the defense was the star for UConn in their season opening 100-56 win over Maine.
In his weekly radio address, coach Kevin Ollie brought up the subject of “defensive kills,” meaning a situation where UConn gets three consecutive defensive stops in a row. He estimated that UConn finished with nine or ten total kills in the game.
“We don’t usually get that many,” Ollie said with a laugh. “I’ll take that.”
Led by a dominant performance from junior center Amida Brimah, UConn blocked 15 shots, the most in a game since the 2004-05 season when they blocked 17 against St. John’s.
Brimah got off to a fast start, blocking four shots in the first 4:08 seconds of the game. His presence at the rim was a major deterrent to Maine. The Black Bears shot just 30 percent from the field.
“I thought our guys really followed the game plan…We want to be a group that has a defensive mindset. I thought our shell was really tight and we kept them out of the lane. When they did get in the lane, Amida was there to block shots. He was one away from the school record… For him to dominate the game, I really thought his overall game was good,” Ollie said.
Brimah, in fact, was one block shy of the school record of ten, held by Hasheem Thabeet and Donyell Marshall.
Maine was able to make a charge towards keeping the game close at the end of the first half. They cut an 18 point UConn lead to 12 heading into the break.
At halftime, the game completely changed.
“I have no idea what I did or what I said, but we certainly didn’t have it at the start of the second half,” Maine coach Bob Walsh said.
UConn did not allow a field goal for the first 4:56 of the second half, leading to a 16-3 run. The game was essentially sealed from there.
“We just wanted to play hard,” Ollie said. “That run where they scored six straight times, that’s just not our defense. In the second half, we started talking on our (switches).
Top to bottom, the UConn defense completely took Maine out of their game plan. They did not have a single player shoot over 46 percent from the field.
“They’ve led the country in block shots. UConn has a defensive philosophy where they have a goalie back there. They funnel the ball in there with their pressure. It’s amazing how long they’ve done that,” Walsh said.
For most fans, the memories of this season opener will be Sterling Gibbs scoring a game high 20 points in his UConn debut, Shonn Miller throwing down a towering putback dunk and Daniel Hamilton nearly putting up a triple double.
For those concerned with seeing how special this team can be, the focus should be on the lockdown defense that the Huskies displayed.
“We just played UConn defense,” Ollie said. “That’s playing solid, keeping our man in front of us and when you got the big fella back there, if he’s not blocking shots, he’s altering shots.”
You remember that old cliché about defenses and championships, right?