Published December 08. 2012 4:00AM
Storrs - Sophomore DeAndre Daniels began Friday's game with nagging lower back pain and ended it receiving treatment in the training room.
In-between, Daniels looked as healthy as ever.
Daniels, an athletic wing player, carried UConn on his back in a 57-49 win over Harvard at Gampel Pavilion. He scored a career-high 23 points in a game that the Huskies never trailed, but also never felt comfortable until the final minutes.
"If I keep playing like this, I'd like if keeps nagging me," Daniels said with a smile. "Hopefully, it doesn't."
His contribution was vital on a night when the Huskies (7-2) struggled at times offensively and relied on their dogged defense to fuel their attack. They forced a season-high tying 18 turnovers, leading to 22 points.
UConn just have may found a much-needed third scoring option to complement guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright.
"DeAndre played an outstanding game," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "He just controlled the game. … And he showed the toughness that we want. The back spasm locked up during the first TV timeout and he kept continuing to play."
Boatright scored 16 points and while Napier had a quiet scoring night with six points but his fingerprints were all over the game, as he finished with season highs in assists (9), rebounds (7) and steals (4).
But Daniels served as the team's offensive energizer. He converted 9 of 12 field goals and added four rebounds in 33 minutes.
"It was a tough matchup for us," Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. "He seems to be a versatile player. We've also been seeing and hearing that they wanted to get more from him. He certainly looked like he delivered tonight."
Ollie had a recent conversation with Daniels about being more aggressive and confident. Daniels came into the game averaging 8.1 points.
Daniels followed Ollie's advice, reaching his previous career high of 15 by halftime.
"He just told me that I had to be confident in myself and be the person that I used to be," Daniels said. "At the start of the game, he was going to go to me early just to try to get me going. I was able to knock down shots."
Daniels sparked the Huskies to a 15-2 start, scoring eight points during the game-opening run. When his back acted up, he headed to the bench for some stretching exercises with team trainer James Doran.
"In the first half, it was killing me," Daniels said.
When he returned, Daniels remained a major offensive factor. His smooth baseline basket handed UConn a 27-24 lead at the break. The Crimson went on a 12-0 run to get back into the game.
In the second half, the Huskies were still searching to diversify their attack. At 35-32, only Daniels, Boatright and junior Enosch Wolf had cracked the scoring column.
This is when Napier and an active defense took over. Napier's bounce pass set up Daniels for a layup. Napier stole the ball and fed junior Niels Giffey for an alley-oop and UConn's first bench points with 9:54 left.
"I get happy when I get a steal and throw an alley-oop to Giff," Napier said.
During a decisive 13-2 run that increased the lead to 46-34, UConn forced five turnovers and Napier scored his first field goal - a 3-pointer with 7:40 remaining.
The Huskies maintained a comfortable lead the rest of the way. It was far from a perfect game for UConn, which was outrebounded (27-20) for the eighth time this season. Wolf, who made his first career start replacing Tyler Olander at center, had four points and zero rebounds in 20 minutes.
But they keep managing to overcome their weaknesses.
"Great victory," Ollie said. "I will definitely take 7-2. … I'm very proud of them, but I'm not satisfied. We've got to continue to work."