If there were any questions about Kevin Ollie as the UConn head coach, they are quickly getting answered. Ollie led the Huskies to a 66-62 victory Friday night over No. 14 Michigan State in Germany as part of the Armed Forces Classic.
In the process, the first-year head coach has set the theme for UConn. Although, his team is banned from postseason play, the Huskies will gladly play the role of spoiler. And Friday night was the opening act.
The backcourt tandem of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright led the UConn, who showed better chemistry than from a season ago. Napier’s 25 points led all scorers and the junior point guard, he also calming sank four free throws to secure the victory. Napier connected on a three with over three minutes to play to give UConn the lead for good at 59-58, followed by a Boatright three, stretching the lead to 62-58.
UConn used ball pressure and quickness to jump out to a 16-point lead. Michigan State would use their size to dominate the offensive glass, helping them cut the lead down to seven at half 40-33. The Spartans only held the lead twice, both in the second half, only to see UConn take it back on the next possession.
Keith Appling had 17 points for Michigan State, while Brandon Dawson added 15 and seven boards.
The bigger story here is UConn’s belief in Ollie. Following the win, the team surrounded their head coach during his postgame interview with ESPN’s Andy Katz.
Ollie is working under a one-year deal and many, such as Jim Calhoun, feels that is unfair. The players rallied behind him, but battled, even though the frontcourt was vastly undersized compared to Michigan State. Ryan Boatright went down with an left leg injury early in the second half, but got himself back in the game to help finish off the upset.
From the start Ollie had UConn prepared and when Michigan State adjusted, Ollie was able to counter and keep his UConn team poised.
Friday night gave a preview of what to expect from UConn this season. The postseason ban means nothing, Ollie is fighting for a job and his team is behind him.
Terrence is also the lead writer at NEHoopNews.com and can be followed on Twitter: @terrence_payne