Men’s Basketball: UConn preps for battle with Cincinnati

Guard Sterling Gibbs gets to the rim during UConn's victory against Georgetown at the XL Center on Jan. 23, 2016. Gibbs finished with 16 points. (Bailey Wright/The Daily Campus)

The UConn men’s basketball team gets back into conference action when they host Cincinnati tomorrow evening at the XL Center.

UConn (14-5, 4-2 The American) enters on a three-game win streak, having beaten Georgetown their last time out.

“It’s two tough teams. (Cincinnati head coach) Mick (Cronin) has done a great job with that program and its identity. It’s always come down to the last possession,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said, Wednesday at the team’s media availability.

This is who we are. We’re a tough team. Our culture is all about toughness. That’s what I want, that’s what we’ve been breeding. It’s a process we have to trust. This team is playing with heart and playing with tenacity.
— Kevin Ollie

The Huskies own a 12-6 all-time record against Cincinnati in a series dating back to the 1994-95 season. In 17 games as conference rivals, UConn owns an 11-6 all-time record, including a 5-1 mark at the XL Center. In their last meeting, guard Ryan Boatright hit a game-winning three to advance UConn to the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinal.

It was easy for Ollie to describe how one of these teams would get an edge: with effort.

“It’s the team that’s going to be the tougher team. It’s going to be the warriors, who’s going to get on the floor, get the 50-50 balls,” Ollie said.

Cincinnati (15-6, 5-3 The American) is coming off a 97-75 home win over Tulane on Sunday. The Bearcats are led in scoring by senior guard Farad Cobb (11.7) and junior guard Troy Caupain (11.3). Sophomore forward Gary Clark is the team’s top rebounder (8.4). Cincy has won four of their last five games.

The two programs are known for their defensive prowess and propensity to play dirty, ugly, low scoring games against each other.

Ollie offered a fair warning to fans.

“If you’re coming to the game for style, this is probably not the game to come to. You’re going to throw it off the rim, try to outrebound you and out-tough you. We gotta make sure we play tough and play smart,” Ollie said.

Look for graduate transfer Shonn Miller to continue his strong play. Miller has reached double figures in scoring in all but two games this season. His 15 points against Georgetown raised his average to 13.6 ppg, a team high. He was named to The American Athletic Conference honor roll for his performances last week.

“I take the game as it comes. I don’t try to force anything. I know my teammates will find me,” Miller said.

Ollie looks set on keeping the starting lineup a mystery up until game time. Guard Rodney Purvis has come off the bench in each of the last three games. The starting lineup changed from the Tulane game to the Georgetown game.

“I don’t know (what the starting lineup will be). I might figure that out when I’m driving back home on 384,” Ollie said laughingly. “That’s a 384 decision. I do my lineups on 384.”

Ollie maintained a positive outlook on his team’s offensive struggles, highlighting their ability to get to the foul line as a key to their victory against Georgetown.

“We want to move the basketball, but the most important thing is to move our bodies,” Ollie said. “We want to make hard cuts, we don’t want the zone to find us…we don’t want to settle. We want to get out and run…I really loved how we attacked the basket. Thirty-six free throws (against Georgetown) was perfect. We want to get to the free throw line…that’s how you win games when you make four field goals in the second half.”

Cincinnati tends to bring out the ugly in UConn basketball. This game will likely be a knockdown, drag out contest to see who’s tougher. Ollie likes his team’s chance.

“This is who we are. We’re a tough team. Our culture is all about toughness. That’s what I want, that’s what we’ve been breeding. It’s a process we have to trust,” Ollie said. “This team is playing with heart and playing with tenacity.”


Elan-Paolo DeCarlo is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering men's basketball. He can be reached via email at elan-paolo.decarlo@uconn.edu. He tweets @ElanDeCarlo.