STORRS, Conn. (AP) The UConn’s men’s basketball team ended its summer workouts and unofficially began the new basketball season Wednesday by completing the annual “Husky Run” through campus.
Sophomore swingman Daniel Hamilton was the first member of the team to complete the annual 3.1-mile race. He jogged the last few yards backward, and finished in 20 minutes, 21 seconds – 10 seconds ahead of junior forward Kentan Facey.
Junior center Amida Brimah, who ran 20:22 a year ago, didn’t participate this year because of a sore ankle. Also sitting out the “Husky Run” was junior guard Sam Cassell Jr., who missed a significant portion of last season due to a stress fracture in his leg.
Hamilton says he’s in the best shape of his life, and believes his team has what it takes to be among the best in the nation.
The Huskies finished 20-15 and lost in the first round of the NIT last season, a year after winning the program’s fourth NCAA championship.
Jon Gill, a senior at Lyman Hall-Wallingford HS, won the “Husky Run” for a second consecutive year with a time of 17:45.
Video credit: WTNH News 8
In the first of two semifinals on Friday afternoon, No. 17 UConn knocked off Dayton, 75-64, to advance to the 2014 Puerto Rico Tip-Off championship game. The Huskies will play West Virginia on Sunday afternoon.
Ryan Boatright went for a game-high 20 points to go along with five rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block. Rodney Purvis and Daniel Hamilton joined Boatright in double figures with 19 and 14, respectively. Jordan Sibert led the Flyers with 18, followed by Kendall Pollard with 15 off the bench.
The final score doesn’t indicate how close this game was for the majority of the afternoon with both teams swapping the lead back-and-forth and entering halftime tied 41-all. More than half of Dayton’s points came in the paint during the first half as tough shots by UConn, coupled with nonexistent transition defense, led to easy buckets for the Flyers.
However, the momentum swung in UConn’s favor in the midway through the second half with UConn forcing Dayton into a prolonged shooting slump. For more than five minutes, the Flyers went without a field goal as the Huskies recaptured the lead at 59-58. Amida Brimah was at the heart of the turning point. In a 15-second span, he rejected three Dayton shots. An energized UConn team responded to the defensive stand with a 3-pointer from Hamilton to take a 62-58 lead. From that point on, Dayton never cut it to a one-possession game.
The adjustment UConn made at half was a better defensive effort by UConn. In the second half, the Huskies limited Dayton to 8-of-29 shooting, forcing nine turnovers and blocking five shots. On the other end of the floor, UConn received contributions from several players. Purvis got going early with eight points before being saddled with two fouls. Hamilton also had spurt in the first half with a pair of spot-up three and another off a handoff. In the second half, while he missed all but one of his jump shots, the 6-foot-4 Purvis was effective getting to the basket, putting the final stamp on the victory with two straight layups to put UConn up 10.
While the biggest talking point this offseason regarding UConn’s hopes of defending its national title has been how they’ll account for the loss of a group of seniors led by point guard Shabazz Napier, head coach Kevin Ollie also has a perimeter rotation that’s expected to be among the best in the country. Sunday afternoon in the team’s 68-59 exhibition victory over Assumption College, two perimeter newcomers stood out for a team that hasn’t been as consistent as Ollie would like them to be in their two dress rehearsals.
Junior college transfer Sam Cassell Jr. scored 18 points off the bench and freshman Daniel Hamilton contributed in multiple areas (12 points, 12 rebounds and six assists), with senior point guard Ryan Boatright scoring 17 (and dishing out four assists) to join them in double figures. Both players were expected to be impact newcomers for the Huskies, so their play in the exhibitions isn’t a surprise.
The next step is to get NC State transfer Rodney Purvis going, as he committed five turnovers Sunday. UConn was able to create more opportunities in the open floor, thus establishing the distance needed to handle Assumption. And following the game, Ollie made note of his desire to see the Huskies play with more energy than they have.
“We had a couple of guys who played UConn basketball,” he said, “and a couple of guys who didn’t. … I want our energy to get better. Players have got to step up. We’ve got to step up together as a team. Hopefully, we’ll do that on Friday.”
UConn opens its season Friday night against Bryant, and the team has work to do ahead of that matchup with Tim O’Shea’s Bulldogs. Yet even with that being the case, the play of Cassell and Hamilton is a positive the Huskies can take out of their exhibition performances.