UConn’s first two games as a member of the American Athletic Conference didn’t go as anticipated, with the Huskies losing games at Houston and SMU last weekend. One problem for the Huskies all season long has been their work on the boards, as they entered Saturday’s game against UCF ranked eighth in the American in defensive rebounding percentage. Reasons for those issues include a lack of depth or experience in the front court, but more importantly a lack of production from their big men.
That changed against the Knights, with UConn grabbing 50 rebounds on their way to the 84-61 victory. Six players grabbed at least five rebounds for the Huskies, with freshman center Amida Brimah grabbing eight in what was the best performance of his young career. Brimah, who failed to score a single point in three of UConn’s four games prior to Saturday, also led the Huskies in scoring with 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting from the field and blocked five shots.
Is Brimah suddenly a premier interior scoring option? No. While he certainly took advantage of a smaller UCF front court, it would be unfair to put that kind of label on a player whose career-high was a seven-point outing in a win over Yale back in early November. And the scoring can be handled by the likes of Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels and Shabazz Napier, who all finished in double figures against UCF.
But if the Huskies are to challenge No. 24 Memphis, who they visit on Thursday, No. 12 Louisville and Cincinnati for the American title they’ll need production from Brimah and Phillip Nolan moving forward. Nolan added eight points and five rebounds on the night, and the two underclassmen received the majority of the interior minutes despite the fact that senior Tyler Olander was in the starting lineup. UConn’s best rebounding efforts will come when all players are helping out on the glass, and that was the case against UCF.
A subpar rebounding team on both ends entering the game, UConn grabbed 48.6% of its missed shots while limiting UCF’s offensive rebounding percentage of just 31.9%. UCF’s number may not seem like a great result, but it’s an improvement on what UConn’s opponents were able to do leading into the game. And whether or not the Huskies can contend for a conference title despite their slow start will depend upon how well they rebound the basketball, regardless of what their talented guards are capable of.