STORRS– Coming into Sunday’s game against East Carolina, head coach Kevin Ollie knew his team would have to limit the Pirates’ transition points and make them run offensive sets.
The Huskies were able to do that and much more. UConn’s defense was outstanding again on Sunday. The Pirates had just four points on the fast break; they committed 11 turnovers and shot 37 percent from the field.
For the 10th straight game, UConn has held their opponents to under 40 percent shooting.
“That was our key,” Ollie said about stopping the ECU transition game. “They’re probably one of the fastest teams in our league, getting out in transition. So we wanted to eliminate that and then keep them in the half court and just rely on our half-court defense. And we did a good job.”
East Carolina (10-13, 2-8 the American) started out hitting their shots. UConn was playing tough defense but the Pirates were making tough shots. Prince Williams scored 10 points in the first eight minutes to pace the Pirates.
The game was tied at 17 with 11:27 to play in the first half. But then Huskies ramped up its defense, causing ECU to go scoreless for 2 minutes and 30 seconds late in the half. UConn led 42-33 at half time.
In the second half, Williams made his first three shots and got all the way up to 21 points just 3:29 in. Williams was being guarded by Daniel Hamilton, but after making his first three shots, Ollie assigned Rodney Purvis to guard Williams.
Williams didn’t score for the rest of the game.
For most of this season, Ollie has used Purvis to guard the opposing team’s best player. As talented Purvis is on offense and in transition, he is a good defender, too.
“I hope we give him credit,” Ollie said. “I tell him in private that he’s playing good defense and then I guess it’s…I’m not writing the story so I guess y’all can write some stories about him. I think it’s a team effort between me and you. I tell him he’s playing good defense but I also tell him when he’s playing bad defense cuz’ I expect so much out of him. I think great players want to be told the truth and I think average players want to be left alone. So we have to tell him the truth when he’s playing good and you got to tell him the truth when he’s playing bad defense cuz’ I expect so much out of him.”
ECU shot 40 percent in the second half (20 percent from three). UConn was able to force a lot of outside shots, not allowing the Pirates to get into the lane.
UConn (17-6, 7-3 the American) outscored ECU 50-22 in the paint.
The Huskies’ defense was just bolstered by the return of Amida Brimah. The junior returned on Jan. 31 after missing 11 games with a hand injury. With Brimah back in the lineup, it gives the Huskies an extra edge in the paint to block shots.
Ollie has done a nice job rotating Brimah back into the lineup with the other bigs, Shonn Miller, Kentan Facey and Steve Enoch.
“Our defense is so much predicated on our bigs moving their feet, calling out screens, being up on screens,” Ollie said. “So it’s a little more than just blocking shots. We just got to get him better on the defensive end, just keep him out there a little longer.”
Brimah started and played 10 minutes on Sunday. He finished with four points, three rebounds and two blocks.
The Huskies allowed 11 offensive rebounds, but won the overall rebounding battle, 35-30.
Because of its defense, UConn scored 17 points in transition. Eighty-five points was the highest the Huskies have scored since scoring 99 against Central Connecticut on Dec. 23.
The Huskies have won six of its last seven games.
UConn has now held 18 of its 23 opponents this season to under 40-percent shooting. Coming into Sunday, UConn has held its opponents to 36.8 percent shooting. The last time a UConn team has done that was 57 years ago during the 1958-59 season in which the Huskies held their opponents to 35.2 percent.
Ollie described the streak best after the game, saying it was “remarkable.