HARTFORD — It’s been four consecutive games now that UConn has started games slowly. It’s something that head coach Kevin Ollie knows can’t happen for the Huskies to be successful moving forward.
“We have to play from the first minute,” Ollie said.
But the Huskies didn’t do that Wednesday night. In fact, it took them about 10 minutes to get going. UConn was down by double-digits with 8:28 left in the first half.
Shonn Miller ignited the Huskies with a dunk that started what would blossom into a 27-2 run to end the first half for the Huskies. UConn would overcome a Pioneers’ spurt that cut the lead to single digits early in the second half, responding with an 18-0 run to put the game out of reach.
UConn used those two emphatic runs in each half to beat Sacred Heart 82-49 in front of 8,563 at the XL Center.
“They are so good defensively and so explosive offensively, that when we started missing some free throws and some shots they just kind of came at us with so much fire power that we couldn’t withstand it,” Sacred Heart head coach Anthony Latina said after the game.
The Huskies found themselves down by 11 points 11:32 into the game. Their first field goal didn’t come until 4:15 into the game from a Steven Enoch dunk. The Huskies started 3 of 10 from the floor.
“We didn’t have no defense, didn’t have no transition, weren’t stopping the ball,” Ollie said about the start of the game. “I think they had eight offensive rebounds in that run so all those different things go back to defense. And that’s what we kind of hang our hats on.”
It was Miller’s dunk that got UConn (5-2) started. They went on a 16-0 run to grab a 30-25 lead and the run would reach 27-2 to end the half. UConn led 41-27.
“They (UConn) really picked it up defensively,” Latina said. “The 27 is not ridiculous. The two is the ridiculous number there. It was their defense. They really turned it up defensively.”
Sacred Heart (1-5) had nine turnovers in the first half and 17 for the game, that UConn turned into 18 points.
The Pioneers started the second half with five straight points to cut the Huskies’ lead to 41-32. UConn then scored 18 straight points to extend their lead to 59-32. Sacred Heart’s Jordan Allen scored in the lane to end the run at 18-2. UConn would then score 13 consecutive points to increase their lead to 72-34.
“This is an explosive team and I think UConn fans are going to have a lot to look forward to,” Latina said.
Daniel Hamilton was an integral part of the run in the second half. He started to get more active on the offensive end, driving the lane and getting good looks for others. Hamilton finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists.
“Daniel once again was special with his third double-double of the season, he started getting it going,” Ollie said.
The Huskies were able to overcome a deficit in the first game of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament over Thanksgiving break against Michigan. But they found themselves down big to Syracuse and Gonzaga and it was too much to overcome.
“That’s something we need to correct ASAP,” Rodney Purvis said.
Wins are wins. But Ollie knows UConn will have to be better going forward.
“I told our guys we keep playing with fire if we keep having slow starts but I really like our guys, how we responded especially after we got down by 11,” Ollie said. “But I just don’t like that pattern.”