Published January 09. 2013 4:00AM
Storrs — Well on the way to a runaway victory, UConn teammates Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels decided to engage in a friendly competition.
They wanted to see who could grab the most rebounds in Tuesday's Big East home opener.
"We made a conscious effort to try to get 10," Napier said.
Both Napier and Daniels fell short, each sharing the team lead with eight. It was about the only thing the Huskies failed to do all night.
UConn turned in an impressive performance in a 99-78 rout of a shorthanded DePaul, which had two starters sitting out serving suspensions for a violation of team rules, at Gampel Pavilion.
"Just a great effort by everybody," coach Kevin Ollie said. "We played like a team."
The Huskies (11-3, 1-1) bounced back from last week's road loss to Marquette with a convincing victory, never trailing and leading by as many as 25 points.
"Everybody was anxious and ready to play," sophomore Ryan Boatright said. "We felt good to get back on the winning track."
They received contributions from the entire team, with Daniels scoring a career-high 26 points. Boatright finished with 22 points and junior Shabazz Napier played a superb floor game, adding 16 points, seven assists, no turnovers and four steals.
They had their highest scoring output in a Big East game since 2006 when they beat Seton Hall, 99-57.
And they even dominated in the rebounding department, holding a decisive 49-29 edge. It was only the third time this season that they won the rebounding battle.
Rebounding has and will continue to be a point of emphasis for the Huskies, a message Daniels received.
After playing a season-low 17 minutes against Marquette and grabbing only one rebound, Daniels worked even harder in practice. He took an aggressive approach from the start Tuesday.
"I wasn't angry," Daniels said of his mindset after Marquette. "I just came back working even harder, boxing out and just trying to rebound because obviously if you rebound, you're going to play a lot of minutes. That was the main thing I focused on and being aggressive."
Daniels, a smooth 6-foot-8 forward, played 30 minutes and did a solid defensive job on DePaul leading scorer Cleveland Melvin, who had the bulk of his 18 points during garbage time.
"DeAndre came back and played the way I expect him to play," Ollie said.
UConn came out playing with great energy, scoring the game's first nine points behind the scoring of Daniels and Boatright.
The speedy Boatright energized his teammates and set the tempo in UConn's favor. He also helped shred DePaul's press. The Blue Demons (10-6, 1-2) looked defenseless at times.
"I feel like nobody can stop me," Boatright said. "And I'm going to keep that attitude."
The Huskies built a 54-34 lead and held a 30-11 rebounding edge at halftime. They also finished with a season-high 19 offensive rebounds and scored 17 second chance points.
Those numbers certainly didn't sit well with DePaul coach Oliver Purnell whose team came in unbeaten in four road games this season.
"I was really disappointed with the way we played," Purnell said. "We've been playing really confident and with a hard edge on the road really all year long. I just didn't feel like we had that tonight - evidence of that is the rebounding stat.
"Of their first 16 shots, UConn rebounded 10 of them."
To be successful in the Big East, UConn has to continue that rebounding effort. Napier, a 6-1 guard, leads the team with a 4.5 per game average. Daniels is close behind him at 4.4.
Expect those two to continue their friendly rebounding competition on Saturday when UConn visits No. 17 Notre Dame.
"I just want to win," Napier said. "I don't care about anything. Whatever coach wants me to do, I just want to win. If he tells me to get on the boards, I get on the boards."