STORRS– It has been six games now that the Huskies have been without Brimah. The junior from Ghana is going to miss six-to-eight weeks due to a broken finger he suffered in practice back on Dec. 21.
Thus, UConn has had to move on from its 7-foot rim protector. The Huskies have gone to graduate transfer Shonn Miller a lot since Brimah has been out. Kentan Facey has stepped up and played well, replacing Brimah in the starting lineup. Phil Nolan has given UConn coach Kevin Ollie solid performance for the minutes he has been given. Freshman Steve Enoch continues to come along.
Ollie was extremely pleased with how the bigs played on Saturday night during No. 23 UConn’s 81-78 win over Memphis at Gampel Pavilion.
“Tonight they stepped up huge,” Ollie said. “We got 14 and 9 out of our guys (Facey and Nolan), which is great. Kentan had five blocks, had some Amida blocks out there. For us to get nine blocks without Amida…that’s big time. If we can keep that up, get better playing defense, not foul as much and rebound the basketball better we can win some games.”
The combination of Miller and Facey to start got the Tigers’ Shaq Goodwin in foul trouble early. Goodwin, who is second on the team in scoring and rebounding, picked up two fouls just 3 minutes and 52 seconds into the game and was forced to sit on the bench for the remainder of the first half.
“The other thing that hurts is (Goodwin) being in foul trouble in the first half,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “It’s awfully hard not having Shaq there for 16 minutes in that first half. It just makes it tough.”
UConn had 12 points in the paint in the first half and 24 in the game.
By Miller’s standard, he didn’t have a good game if you just looked at the stat sheet and how he shot the ball. He finished with 11 points and three rebounds and two blocks.
“He didn’t make a lot of shots, but just getting it down to him…really wearing them (the Memphis bigs) down and getting them in foul trouble,” Ollie said. “He really was a vocal point of our offensive attack tonight. And he’ll score better than that, but just to get those guys in foul trouble, especially to get Shaq with two early fouls was huge.”
Miller was 2 of 7 from the field but made 7 of 9 at the free-throw line.
Facey finished with seven points, five rebounds and five blocks. Nolan finished with seven points and four rebounds.
The Huskies (11-4, 2-1 American) really leaned on Miller and Facey’s energy to start the second half. Both were all over the court getting rebounds or blocks.
“We always look to get the ball to Shonn,” Facey said. “He’s probably our best post presence we have so going to him something good is always going to happen.”
Three Memphis players — Goodwin, Markel Crawford and Avery Woodson — fouled out of the game. Forward Dedric Lawson, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, had four fouls.
It does have to be mentioned, however, that when he was in the game, Goodwin was just about getting every shot he wanted in the second half. The Huskies didn’t have an answer for him.
In the 22 minutes that Goodwin played, he scored 23 points (19 in the second half) on 6 of 9 shooting and 11 of 12 from the line. He was nearly unstoppable in the second half playing with three fouls for most of the half.
“He’s a load,” Facey said. “He gets in the post and it’s almost over. You have to really fight and do your work early and get him out of position.”
The Huskies were outrebounded 42 to 29. The Tigers scored 22 points in the paint.
“Now we have to focus on our defensive principles,” Facey said. “A guard can blow by with Amida there and he’s going to somehow alter or block the shot. For us, we just have to be in position early. We have to pay more attention detail when it comes to defense.”
Now into conference play, the Huskies still have a while before Brimah comes back. Without Brimah for six games now, UConn has gotten a bit better each game, but they still have room for improvement.”
“Amida was a large part of the team and we definitely can’t let our season go down the drain because he’s out a couple of games,” Nolan said. “Me and K (Facey) are going to step up. Me, K and Steve…all the bigs got to step up.”