Center Amida Brimah is one of the three seniors on the UConn men’s basketball team, all three of whom have been fully healthy as players go down around them. It has been especially rough over the past three games, as injuries to big men Steven Enoch and Juwan Durham have left the Huskies with just a six-man rotation.
Brimah has had his fair share of struggles, but when the chips were down Saturday night against Tulane at Gampel Pavilion, he helped rally UConn back to a 78-68 win with a fantastic individual performance powered by the raucous energy of the Huskies’ on-campus digs.
Brimah finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and five blocks in just 21 minutes, while thoroughly dominating the defensive paint against an overmatched Tulane line-up.
“He’s just amazing back there. His timing is great, he’s going up there, getting the crowd excited, especially when he blocks a shot,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said, before going on to praise Brimah’s ability to keep the ball in play after a blocked shot.
Saturday was UConn’s first in-semester home game at Gampel Pavilion since Nov. 14, not counting a Dec. 18 win over North Florida that came on the Sunday of finals week. The student section was energized and ready to go, but the Huskies came out and struggled against a Tulane team that entered with a 4-16 record. The Green Wave led by as many as 13 points in the first half.
Tulane built their lead with a host of outside jump shots, but when those same shots missed in the second half, they ventured into the paint against Brimah with poor results. In a crucial sequence midway through the second half, the 7-foot center engaged the Gampel crowd and his team with a huge block before finishing an alley-oop to tie the game at 50 apiece.
“Especially in a game like this where we’re down, we needed that energy, and whenever I get the block it gives us a lot of energy,” Brimah said.
Less than a minute later, Brimah hit a pair of free throws to give the Huskies their second lead of the game. Entering the game with just a 53 percent mark from the charity stripe, Brimah hit 10-of-12 free throws to make the Green Wave pay for various fouls.
In addition to the plays that made the stat sheet, Brimah successfully challenged a number of Tulane drives in the second half, which stymied their offense as UConn raced ahead. Freshman Christian Vital, who had a noteworthy game of his own with 14 points and 10 rebounds, praised his center’s rim protection for its impact on the overall team defense.
“Having him in the back of a zone, or having him in the back of our defensive set, makes me be able to pressure the ball, and be able to force turnovers, and get steals, because I know that if I do get beat, or if that guy does happen to get by, I have one of the best shot blockers in the country behind me,” Christian Vital said.
Brimah fouled out with 2:32 left on another vicious contest at the rim with the game firmly in hand, leaving to a polite standing ovation from the Gampel crowd of 9,207. Fouls have been a problem for him recently, as they always have been, but Saturday night showed his sheer impact on the floor when playing well. Playing at home certainly helps. Halfway through his senior season, only four true games at home remain in Brimah’s UConn career, and only two of those will be played in Storrs.
That comes later. Now, the Huskies will enjoy a full week’s break before taking on their toughest test of the season next Saturday in Cincinnati. The Bearcats have ripped off a lengthy win streak and are ranked No. 19 in the nation in the AP Top 25 poll.
“We have a great game coming up,” Brimah said. “We’re gonna take care of our bodies and we’re gonna work too.”
UConn would certainly like it if Enoch or Durham could get healthy. Either way, Brimah’s play will be critical if the Huskies are to have any hope of topping their archrival and extending their own winning streak.
“It definitely comes at a great time,” Ollie said of the weeklong break. “I’m hopeful we can get some guys healthy, get Steve back or Juwan back, just some healthy body because we know it’s going to be a war in Cincinnati.”