Ryan Boatright just the spark UConn needs

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Though blessed with a frontcourt matched by only a few teams in the nation, Connecticut didn’t lean on Andre Drummond, Alex Oriakhi, or DeAndre Daniels on Saturday afternoon against Arkansas.

Ryan Boatright, in just the second game of his college career, led a strong Husky backcourt with 26 points on 8 of 12 shooting and six assists in a 75-62 win over Arkansas at the XL Center in Hartford.

Boatright sat out the first six games of the season, after being suspended by the NCAA for receiving improper benefits.

“[My mood] changed a lot just because I know that everything that I’ve been working for and everything I worked on all summer and preseason I can actually do that on the court,” Boatright said Friday of his return. “You feel helpless when you just have to sit and watch.”

Coming off the bench Saturday afternoon, Boatright’s performance was an encore to his 14-point outing against Florida State in the Battle 4 Atlantis. In that game, his three clutch free throws with seven seconds left sent the game to overtime, on the way to a Husky victory.

“He’s very talented,” UConn head coach Jim Calhoun told TheDay.com. “Pound for pound, far and away he’s the strongest kid on our team.”

As the smaller team on Saturday afternoon, Arkansas used strong defensive pressure in the first half, to which Boatright led the quicker, backcourt-based counteroffensive.

“[The Connecticut backcourt] can hit you from a lot of different angles,” Boatright said before the game. “A lot of people underestimate us because we’re short, but we’ve got a lot of quickness and when we get out there in front of you, it doesn’t matter.”

The freshman Boatright was the Co-Mr. Basketball in the highly-competitive state of Illinois this past year and a top 75 recruit in the country.

And he just might be the spark that Connecticut lacked earlier in the year.

While the freshman sat out his suspension, the Huskies had no backcourt options to look to for production off the bench, which  contributed to UConn’s one loss, against UCF.

In that game, Shabazz Napier’s 2 of 7 shooting performance and Jeremy Lamb’s 5 of 16 from the floor put the scoring burden on the frontcourt.

Now, with Boatright, his dribble penetration and aggressiveness in transition free up the floor for Lamb, Napier, and the bigs down low.

Sophomore guard Jeremy Lamb had 14 points on 6/9 shooting in the win over Arkansas.

“We’re all happy for him,” Lamb said. “It’s a weight lifted off of him. He’s really focused and ready to move on.”

The Huskies move on to a test Dec. 8 against undefeated Harvard.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_