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Ollie says this UConn team is learning what it takes to win

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published 02/03/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 02/02/2013 11:42 PM

A brotherly bond has helped them overcome adversity and their deficiences to win basketball games this season.

Nearing the midway point of the Big East season, UConn has exceeded outside expectations due in part to improved team chemistry.

Without that family feeling, the Huskies likely wouldn't have beaten Providence in overtime on Thursday.

"We just try to stay together," freshman Omar Calhoun said after the hard-fought road win. "We're brothers."

UConn (14-5, 4-3) will attempt to extend its mini-unbeaten streak to three straight today (2 p.m., SNY) against South Florida (10-10, 1-7) at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs.

The Huskies returned to practice Saturday after a day off and worked on rebounding. They were outrebounded by a staggering 31 against the Friars, but had an edge in the toughness and heart departments.

"We're just trying to get better," coach Kevin Ollie said Saturday during a conference call. "But one thing I can testify with this group, they're learning how to win, which is a good thing. They're learning to find a way.

"Getting outrebounded by 31 and still winning is a great momentum builder for them. But we've still got to look at it that you're not going to be able to get outrebounded by 31 and win games in the Big East. But it is remarkable how they pulled together and got that win."

Statistically speaking, South Florida is a weaker rebounding team than UConn. The Bulls began the weekend ranked last in rebounding margin (minus 12.6) in the Big East. The Huskies were 13th at minus 4.3.

The Bulls haven't come close to duplicating last year's success. They had their best Big East season, finishing sixth (12-6), tying a school record for overall wins (22) and reaching the third round of the NCAA tournament for the first time.

A tough conference schedule has contributed to their woes this season (half of their losses have come against ranked teams).

Stingy defense is still South Florida's anchor. The Bulls test an opponent's patience and try to slow the game down with a zone. In the Big East, they've allowed just 62.4 points per game, but struggle offensively, ranking last in scoring offense (53.1) and field goal percentage (37.7).

"They're a great defensive team," Ollie said. "They're 1-7 in the Big East but I don't even look at their record. They hold you down. We're going to have to be patient and we're going to have to be poised. They're going to run their zone like all the other teams are doing."

" It's going to be a possession to possession game. They're not looking to score quickly."

UConn has had mixed results against zones this season. The Huskies bogged down at times against Providence, but, as Ollie pointed out, still shot 50 percent.

The Huskies expect to be healthier today than Thursday, as junior Tyler Olander has recovered from flu-like symptoms and sophomore Ryan Boatright's right ankle is "okay."

A victory today would be a shot of momentum for the Huskies, who play their next two games on the road, visiting St. John's on Wednesday and Seton Hall on Sunday, Feb. 10.

g.keefe@theday.com

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