American Tournament: Role players help No. 21 UConn hold off No. 13 Cincinnati

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Throughout the season guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright have led the way for No. 21 UConn, with role players such as DeAndre Daniels and Niels Giffey chipping in when needed. And that has been the case at the American Athletic Conference tournament, with those role players making valuable contributions in wins over No. 19 Memphis and No. 13 Cincinnati.

In their 58-56 win over the Bearcats Giffey scored 11 points and Daniels added 14 to go along with nine rebounds, joining Napier (15 points) and Boatright (13) in double figures. Those four starters combined to score 53 of the Huskies’ 58 points, and with Cincinnati being as tough as they are defensively a two-man attack wasn’t going to get the job done.

UConn needed more and Giffey and Daniels stepped forward, moving the Huskies into Saturday’s title game against No. 5 Louisville.

Another key contributor for UConn was center Amida Brimah, who in 21 minutes of action scored four points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked four shots. The freshman isn’t ready to be a marquee offensive option at this stage in his career but he has the ability to be the rim protector this group needs, and he filled that role opposite the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in Cincinnati’s Justin Jackson.

Brimah’s presence contributed to one of UConn’s best defensive performances of the season, limiting the Bearcats to 37.9% shooting and leading scorer Sean Kilpatrick to 5-for-15 from the field. That defense helped the Huskies win despite being outscored 32-14 in the paint and 17-7 in points off of turnovers.

The turnover area is something UConn will have to clean up in order to beat Louisville, which is red-hot and swept the regular season series. Do that, and the Huskies will have a shot at winning the inaugural American tournament title. And if UConn’s role player can continue to supplement the efforts of their backcourt as they have this week, Kevin Ollie’s group is capable of making a run in the NCAA tournament.

Louisville backcourt struggles in first scrimmage

Quentin Snider, Jerian Grant
Associated Press
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While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.

One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).

They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.

That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.

“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”

As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.

Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.

But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.

Knee injury sidelines Memphis assistant

Toronto Raptors vs Charlotte Hornets
Associated Press
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With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.

Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.

“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”

Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.

As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.