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Improved second half play, rebounding factor into No. 10 UConn’s win at Washington

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On Wednesday night No. 10 UConn played its worst half of the season, shooting 5-for-31 from the field and scoring just 13 points in the second half against Stanford. The Cardinal went zone and the move resulted in the Huskies being far too stationary offensively. Stanford took full advantage of UConn’s issues, erasing a ten-point deficit and winning 53-51.

Sunday’s game at Washington represented a chance for Kevin Ollie’s team to get back on the right track with the start of American Athletic Conference play right around the corner, and after a slow start UConn was able to do just that.

Shabazz Napier scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half to help lead UConn to an 82-70 win over Washington, and two areas stood out for the visitors. One was the fact that they shot 60% from the field and averaged 1.14 points per possession in the second half, and that’s despite turning the ball over on nearly 27 percent of their possessions. Had UConn (11 second half turnovers) exhibited better ball control the margin likely would have been even worse for a Washington team that led by 14 at one point in the first half.

The other area, and it’s one that will be of even greater importance when UConn takes on the talented front lines at Louisville and Memphis, is how well they were able to hit the offensive glass. UConn entered the game ranked 249th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, as they managed to corral just under 29% of their missed shots. Against a Washington squad that has also struggled on the boards due to a lack of depth UConn rebounded 46.2% of its misses on Sunday, with bigs Amida Brimah and Phil Nolan accounting for six of those 12 offensive rebounds.

Given Washington’s depth (and talent) issues inside, those numbers do have to be taken with a grain of salt. However for a team that’s had so much trouble on the boards Sunday’s performance should be seen as a step in the right direction. UConn’s going to score points, with Napier and Ryan Boatright leading the way and forward DeAndre Daniels also being a valuable scoring option. Daniels scored ten points on the afternoon and George Washington transfer Lasan Kromah added 14 off the bench, providing the start guards with some needed supplementary production.

But it’s very rare for a team to win a championship by solely outscoring its opponents, meaning that the “little things” like hitting the offensive glass and finishing possessions on the other end by way of a forced turnover or rebound are a big deal as well. UConn will need to use Sunday’s performance in the second half and on the boards as a catalyst of sorts, because they’ll need to just as productive when taking on their fellow American contenders when conference play begins.

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.