The UConn men’s basketball team made a statement in their 81-73 win over No. 21 SMU at the XL Center this afternoon in Hartford. Rodney Purvis had a career high 28 points, including an emphatic, driving dunk early in the second half, that brought and kept the crowd on their feet for the remainder of the game, sparking memories of crowds of Big East basketball past.
While it may be too late for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Huskies are making strides at exactly the right time, during the stretch run of the regular season, as the conference tournament is just eleven days away. Ryan Boatright was Ryan Boatright, scoring 23 points, dishing out 5 assists and grabbing 3 rebounds. But the story of the day was the emergence of Purvis, who entered the game shooting 40-percent from the free throw line and proceeded to go 7-for-7 from the charity stripe, as well as hit three of his six three’s.
“Free throws are easy points, they can get you going,” Purvis said after the win. “I’ve been shying away from contact, not being as confident. I just need to go to the basket.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with him, he’s been shooting floaters,” he laughingly joked. “I tell him all the time, if I had your frame and height, I’d have all kinds of dunks. You need to have my instinct and want to dunk every single time and complete it and he did that today.”
With the big three of Boatright, Purvis and Hamilton, who had 16 of his own, combining for 67 points, the Huskies will be a tough out, should this production consistently continue.
“The sky is the limit” Boatright said. “We just want to keep getting better every day, take care of these games, game by game. Just get in the tournament and once we get in the tournament, anything can happen.”
Boatright knows the struggles of an up-and-down year, but also knows, good things can come.
“I think it was just growing pains,” he said when talking about Purvis’ early season struggles. “He really only played one full year of college basketball, sat out last year and had surgery. He had that pressure put on him and I think early in the year, he had his ups-and-downs and you have to go through those. I went through that last year, that wasn’t my best year, but I stayed with it, kept believing and we finished strong with a National Championship. As long as he continues to keep believing in himself and keep working hard, we can turn this thing around.”
After the performance in today’s win over SMU, the Huskies may have already made that turn.by
In the game of football, success begins and ends, in most instances, with the play of the offensive and defensive lines. To say the o-line was inconsistent for UConn in 2014 would be kind, but they also had their moments and showed improvements as the year went on. The inconsistencies, however, were too much for longtime assistant Mike Foley to survive, as he has been replaced by Mike Cummings, who moved over from offensive coordinator.
I had the chance to sit down with him to talk about his new position, as well as last year’s performance of the group he will oversee.
“Probably the positives from last year were the improvement of the techniques, the development of the offensive line and the improvement of their chemistry as they worked together,” Cummings said inside the Burton Family Football Complex. “We weren’t necessarily fundamentally sound early. We made some progress in our fundamentals, which led to schematic improvements and I think that’s where we’re going.”
Cummings is happy with the chemistry the guys have and it’s only gotten better since the loss to SMU in December.
“Once you create a chemistry because guys have played together, the chemistry isn’t just on the field, it’s off the field, [as well],” he noted. “You get to a point in an offensive line where you’ve got to make calls, you have to tell each other what you’re going to do based on the defensive movements and so forth. It gets to the point where the guys have played together enough, they almost can make their own calls out there. Well, we aren’t quite at that point, clearly, with how much inexperience we have, but we are making progress in the fact that we all know what the calls are, so we’re going in the right direction.”
Cummings mentioned inexperience and that was the case up and down the roster at the position, a year ago, as only Alex Mateas and Gus Cruz were upperclassmen. There will need to be young guys that come on the scene and take hold of a spot this season. Who will that be? Well, I asked the new position coach exactly that.
“Who’s going to take the next step? Dan Oak, Andreas Knappe, Trey Rutherford, Tyler Samra, you want me to name them all? Because I’ll name every guy,” Cummings joked. “There’s a threshold, there’s a level by every player and we expect them to go beyond that right now. And they are going to do that. That is part of our culture, that’s how we’ve been coaching and that’s how they are trained, in every aspect in this building. They all have something to do. There’s nobody that we can say, ‘okay, this guy is good enough.’ And if there was? We would push them harder and get more out of them. And that’s what we have to do. Our job is to make them as good as they can be, on and off the field and that’s what we’re going to do.”
As far as specific players who will rise above the rest?
“I couldn’t tell you who’s going to do this or who is there,” he said. “Who do I like? I like the guys that played last year, that were freshmen. It’s a shame that we had to play freshmen, but what a great thing to have, now that the young guys have played. You know, being young and being inexperienced is necessarily two different things. You can be young and be experienced because we have that right now. So that’s the good news. You have Trey Rutherford and Ryan Crozier, they played.”
One other player who has played and is still learning on the fly, is tackle Andreas Knappe.
“He’s smart, he’s tough and he has tremendous work ethic, those are the three qualities,” Cummings raved. “He’s a high achiever. He’s not going to like mediocre people, he really wants nothing to do with them and he’s very coachable. He’s not interested in the swirl of anything outside of his game. He comes to this building and wants to get better, but remember now, the academic center is this building too, so he comes here to get better in everything he does. The weight room is in this building, so he comes here to get better in that area too. He’s very conscientious and he’s very mature.”
Knappe played a big part in an area that saw the Huskies improve as 2014 progressed, pass protection.
“It’s a combination of things, it’s experience, but a lot of it had to do with instruction and technique,” Cummings said. “We’re talking about getting it down to the smallest common denominator for these guys. That’s what has to happen, you have to break it down. Let’s face it, Alex Mateas is going to understand things differently than Ryan Crozier, so bring it down as far as you can. The older player, you can take him on the side and help him out, but the younger player is not going to be missing out if you do it that way.”
What did the coaches do differently to aide in that success towards the end of the season?
“We changed up some techniques in the way we did things, in our instruction and tried to slow it down,” he continued. “We tried to simplify the things we were doing and give them more opportunities in practice. Football is a game of repetition, I don’t care what position you play. Did you know in football that the only position on the field that has to play full speed with the ball behind them, is the offensive line? So if you’re going to tell a guy to play full speed, with the ball behind him, he better know where the ball is. So if you’re not drilling him, not necessarily just how to block it, but where that ball is and where it’s going to go, you’re not going to be very good.”
Cummings will also serve as co-offensive coordinator to the incoming Frank Verducci, who joins the Huskies, from Northern Iowa.
“As all of our assistants are, we are here to serve one another, serve the coordinator and serve our head coach,” he said. “Really, it’s whatever Frank [Verducci] needs. Generally, the way it has worked, is in terms of run game, pass protection and how we’re going to attack defenses from a blocking standpoint. But if Frank calls me to do another job, I’ll be happy to do that too.”
The Huskies staff will have a chance to get accustomed to their new roles shortly, as spring practice begins next Saturday, March 7th.by
UConn Pours It On In Second Half To Defeat East Carolina, Courant
Purvis Right At Home In Leading UConn Against East Carolina, Courant
Photos: UConn Men At East Carolina, Courant
UConn 60, East Carolina 49: Wrapping Things Up At Williams Arena, Courant
Kevin Ollie On ‘The Seth Davis Show’, Courant
UCONN TAKES WIN OVER EAST CAROLINA PIRATES 60-49, Daily Campus
Ollie’s halftime words spark UConn’s second half comeback, Register
ECU put up fight in loss to UConn, News & Observer
UConn Recruit Samuelson Named WBCA Player of Year, Courant
Katie Lou Samuelson, an incoming freshman for UConn, named WBCA player of the year, Register
UConn women to honor seniors, including manager Carley Mooney of Killingworth, Register
All-Star game, draft to be held at Mohegan Sun, AP article from the Register
UCONN RECRUIT KATIE LOU SAMUELSON NAMED WBCA PLAYER OF THE YEAR, ESPN
Mo’ne Davis’ life has been wild, crazy since LLWS, USA Today
Minnesota’s Zahui B. averages 33 points and 28 rebounds in two Gopher wins, NCAA.com (also, Breanna Stewart)
Defensive line was perhaps the most consistent position for the UConn football team in 2014, a position that coach Kevin Wolthausen, knows well. Much of the success can be attributed to the play of Julian Campenni and Mikal Myers, who will be entering their senior and junior years, respectively, as we hit the 2015 season.
So what does their position coach like about their games?
“Our system, they are prototypical for the position,” Wolthausen said last week during media availability. “The inside nose tackle, when you look at the NFL, those 3-4 teams that can play in a 4-3 system too, [we have that]. You just offset them and then you go.”
What makes them so successful?
“They’re compact,” he said. “I look back and I can’t remember them being blocked, throughout all of last year. They might have jumped out of their gap or done something they shouldn’t have done, but from the standpoint of somebody in our league, no matter who we played, from BYU to Boise, whoever, I can’t remember them being blocked.”
Campenni, who had set career-high in sacks and TFL’s, earned all-league honors last season, while Myers had a breakout year of his own.
“I think you look at those two guys, number one, they stop the run and possess kind of a pressure rush,” Wolthausen said, which made the job easier for the rest of the line. “We didn’t really have strictly pass rushers [last season], that’s what we’re developing.”
In addition to Campenni and Myers, Wolthausen is excited about the younger members of the group, as well as an elder-statesman.
“You look at the end position and we finished the year with guys like Folorunso Fatukasi,” he expressed. “He was 300 pounds, a sophomore, who is just starting to figure it out. We are extremely excited about his upside. Cole Ormsby, who we moved back to the line during the season, was really able to play in every game, in every situation. He was a bit undersized last year, but now he’s heavier and coming along. He can really be a real dominant player. Then you have Kenton Adeyemi, who’s been around for awhile and it’s his turn to step up and assume a role and be a leader by example.”
Wolthausen also expressed excitement about redshirt freshmen Sheriden Lawley and James Atkins, as well as Sean Marrinan, who saw quite a bit of time on special teams in 2014.
“It’s not a very deep group, but the way we do it, we don’t need a lot of numbers, we just need the right guys,” he added.
The Huskies lacked a consistent pass rush a year ago, an area that was noted by many during the struggles of a 2-10 season.
“Whether there is or there isn’t, it’s not that we’re not [trying to],” Wolthausen said. “We ended up last year, due to some of the schemes that we played, you know it might be a three-man rush at times. We had extra players to defend the quarterback runs and some of the other things, the scrambles and all that. So some of it was by design and some of it was just inexperience as pass rushers.”
“We had some guys that hadn’t played a lot,” he continued. “So whether you say systematically or just experience wise, the scheme based on who we play, all that stuff factors in. You want to line up and blitz every down and do what some other teams do? We might have given up bigger plays. However, we do need to get better in that area.”
The Huskies will once again bounce between a 3-4 and 4-3, based on situations and the type of offense they are up against.
“We’re in and out of 3-down, 4-down and whatever else we want to do,” Wolthausen noted. “There is a system that we play and that stays consistent throughout the entire defense. The techniques might change a little bit based on the alignment, but to say we’re this type of defense or we’re only going to do that? We’re pretty multiple.”by