STORRS – Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie met with the media before practice Thursday afternonn at Gampel Pavilion because the UConn women had a game against Penn State on Thursday night. There might be a change in the starting lineup when the Huskies play Harvard Friday (7 p.m., SNY, UConn IMG Sports Radio Network) but Ollie was waiting until after practice to make that decision.
The reason? Forward DeAndre Daniels had problems with back spasms during Tuesday's game against North Carolina State and Ollie wanted to see how the 6-foot-8 sophomore would handle practice. Daniels said he wasn't 100 percent against the Wolfpack and he had trouble moving and bending.
Ollie did not say who would replace Daniels if he can't start. But losing a 6-8 forward is the last thing the Huskies need with their rebounding struggles. Daniels and Tyler Olander are UConn's top rebounders, averaging 4.5 each. Opponents are averaging 38.2 rebounds per game to UConn's 32.4
Of course, 7-1 center Enosch Wolf had matched a career high with 12 points and set a career high with nine rebounds off the bench against NC State. Wolf attracted the most attention at practice Thursday and it would be interesting to see if Ollie is ready to give Wolf his first start in a UConn uniform.
"Obviously we need rebounding and we need size inside, so I'm just trying to go out there and play hard and grab as many rebounds as I can," Wolf said. "The stuff on the inside comes in the flow of the game."
Wolf leads the Huskies in field goal percentage (68 percent). He's only taking 25 shots and hit 17. In his best games, against Wake Forest and NC State, he has shown the ability to hit jumpers. Playing in the high post, he provides UConn with a big man who can shoot facing the basket, especially in Ollie's pick-and-pop offense.
"I'm very encouraged about it … That's what I want from him," Ollie said. "He's had some glimpses, but I want it more on a consistent basis. He had a great practice yesterday, and hopefully he'll continue that performance. I'm not asking for 12 and nine every night, that would be a lot, but he's proven he's capable of it. He's 7-1, we need some of that girth down low."
Wolf gives a lot of credit to assistant coach Glen Miller, who has worked with Wolf on his post moves. Wolf spent most of this summer in Storrs and is in the best physical condition since arriving at UConn. The coaching staff is looking for consistency at this point in Wolf's career.
"With him, it has always been a couple of good days of practice and then a minor injury or disinterest, which has set him back to square one," Miller said. "I always thought if he could put together a couple of good weeks of practice, and catch the [basketball] bug a little bit, he definitely had the skill and the basketball IQ to be able to contribute at this level."
Other tidbits from practice:
- Guard Shabazz Napier was asked if Harvard is more of a "name" basketball program after winning the Ivy League championship last season and with coach Tommy Amaker in his sixth season. "They made more of a name during the summer with that scandal thing they did," Napier said. "But basketball wise they've always been a good team." That "scandal thing" was an academic cheating scandal that involved several athletes. Co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry withdrew from school and drastically changed the outlook for this season. Still, the Crimson comes into Gampel 4-3 with losses to UMass, Saint Joseph's and Vermont. Harvard is on a two-game winning streak, beating Fordham and Boston College. Napier said he has been impressed watching freshman point guard Siyani Chambers, who had 21 points and seven assists against BC
- Reserve guard R.J. Evans said he experienced some soreness after returning from the clavicle injury that kept him out of two games. He played 19 minutes against NC State and scored four points. "I feel a little better now," Evans said before practice. "I was sore on Wednesday. That was expected. The doctors told me it's not fully healed yet. Some pain is going to come here and there. I felt it sometimes during the game. It felt different. No setback. I've just got to play through the pain. I can't make it worse." After Friday, UConn breaks for final exams until a Dec. 17 game against Maryland-Eastern Shore. Evans said he hopes the break will allow him to get fully healed. Evans, a graduate student and transfer, was 0-4 against Harvard while playing at Holy Cross. He hopes to break into the win column Friday wearing a UConn uniform.
- On Wednesday we wrote about UConn's inability to get to the free throw line against NC State. The Huskies took just 11 free throws. Asked about that, Ollie blamed it all on UConn's offense "They packed it in. They played good defense," Ollie said of NC State. "We wanted to get to the basket a little more and we didn't get a chance to. I can't say it was the refs; it was us. We've got to penetrate and get to the bucket. If you're shooting jump shots, you're not going to get to the free throw line too much. We've got to do a better job penetrating. It can be a huge thing [in deciding a game]. Getting to the free throw has been allowing us to win games. We want to get back to it."