It was not the prettiest of games if offense is your thing. However, the ultimate goal of basketball is to outscore your opponents. On nights like this, that means making your opponent shoot worse than you.
That is exactly what UConn did to Tulane en route to a 60-42 victory.
According to KenPom, the Huskies (13-5, 4-2 American) entered the evening ranked 18th in the nation in defensive efficiency and their performance against the Green Wave (8-12, 1-6 American).
When the game went final, their ranking rose to 13th.
In terms of points scored in a game this season, this was UConn’s best defensive game and Tulane’s worst.
“I was proud of the way the guys came back. We had one day to prepare and our defensive effort was great,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said. “I like our defense, we hang our hat on our defense. I really appreciate the guys’ effort.”
The first half of this game was a clinic in team defense. UConn held Tulane to just 18 points on 18.8 shooting percentage. Tulane was held in single digits for the first 14 minutes of the game. The starting lineup of Shonn Miller, Daniel Hamilton, Sterling Gibbs, Jalen Adams and Phil Nolan, together for the second straight game, proved their strength as a unit.
The addition of Nolan, in particular, to the starting lineup has been a boon. Ollie has long held the belief that Nolan is a spectacular player on the defensive end and is always quick to sing his praises.
“Phil played, I know you don’t see the points, but he played great,” Ollie said.
In the second half, Tulane mounted a run and eventually cut the deficit to seven. The Huskies responded by going on a 15-0 run, holding the Green Wave scoreless for over seven minutes.
“(When we’re playing defense like that, the mindset is) Keep it going. Don’t take your foot off the pedal. We just have to keep going and going and going. Coming at them in waves because everybody coming off the bench, whoever’s playing, we believe in each other,” Shonn Miller said. Miller finished with a game high 18 points and added seven rebounds, two steals and a block.
Tulane guard Luis Dabney got hot, scoring 12 of his team high 15 points over a seven minute span.
“Dabney was the key in that little run, he was killing us…We made them turn the basketball over, we rotated, we doubled (Dylan) Osetkowski and held him to seven points and five rebounds which was key for us. That was ace of spades. That was key,” Ollie said.
UConn tried five different players at Dabney to slow him down.
“We just started communicating a little more,” Omar Calhoun said. Calhoun played 20 minutes and finished with five rebounds and one steal to go along with his 12 points. “He got off a couple times off screens, he got into the lane a little bit. We knew threes were going to hurt us, twos couldn’t hurt us that much.”
Tulane finished the game shooting 25.9 percent from the field, made just five three pointers and turned the ball over 16 times, leading to 16 UConn points.
In terms of advanced stats, the Huskies brought their defense to another level. They turned in a performance that where they held an opponent to the lowest effective FG percentage and regular FG percentage allowed. Their tenacity also led to their highest turnover percentage of the season.
UConn has long held the reputation of being a dominant defensive program. However when Amida Brimah, the reigning American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year, got hurt, many expected the Huskies to struggle on that end of the floor.
That has not been the case, according to Ollie.
“The thing that I’m loving is our defense, especially without the big fella (Brimah). Phil is doing a great job. Shonn is doing a great job. Our guards are getting up and contesting. We’re just playing some awesome defense,” Ollie said.
UConn is next in action this weekend, when they host Georgetown at the XL Center.