Saturday, November 12, 2011

Connecticut 70, Columbia 57

[recap] [box score]

The defending national champions are on the short list of contenders for the title this year. But those high expectations count heavily on replacing Kemba Walker's leadership and production with a pair of sophomores. Shabazz Napier, who had a solid season backing up Walker at point guard as a freshman, will need to step into the lead guard role. Jeremy Lamb will need to prove that he can be as effective offensively as a number one option as he was when the opposing defense was focused primarily on Walker.

So far, so good, in those regards. Lamb had 30 points, including a dunk over the unfortunate Mark Cisco that drew the first "Send it in!" of the season from Bill Raftery. Lamb has NBA range and can spot up or shoot it off the dribble. He's very smooth off the dribble and has a good midrange game, and looked, for a night at least, like an elite offensive player.

Napier looked very comfortable running the offense, pushing the pace to one faster that I seem to remember UConn ever playing at in past seasons. He was the only Husky other than Lamb to score in double figures (he had 21). He hit a trio of early-offense three-pointers, pulling up off the dribble. I'm interested to see if Jim Calhoun approves of those types of shots, but he didn't seem to mind Friday. Napier is a good setup man who looked for his shot quite a bit against Columbia, and UConn would certainly benefit from another consistent offensive threat.

Connecticut notes: The Huskies had a really difficult time with Noruwa Agho, the Ivy League's returning scorer. Roscoe Smith couldn't keep him out of the lane, and he hit a couple jumpers over Lamb when Lamb failed to get a hand up. Freshman DeAndre Daniels did the best job on him and had an excellent game defensively ... I have to reserve judgment on highly-touted freshman big Andre Drummond, who got in early foul trouble and played just 12 minutes. Two quick concerns, though, that I want to keep an eye on: 1) He only took one shot -- a rushed turnaround jumper on his second touch -- but his release point looks pretty low; and 2) While he is incredibly athletic (he's allegedly the fastest guy on the team), he runs heavy. I'm curious to see how his footwork is, because he didn't strike me as very graceful ... Napier is a great on-ball defender, but he got caught napping a couple of times on defense, once peeking into the post and giving up a good look at a three, and once turning his head to watch the ball on the perimeter and getting burned on a backdoor cut ... Tyler Olander is much improved and was UConn's best big on this night, showing a patient post game, decent jumper, and some nice work defensively and on the glass.

Columbia notes: Agho has a lightning-quick crossover and is great at setting it up with ball fakes. He likes to go away from the high-ball screens they run for him and got into the lane plenty, but couldn't get the ball to go down much ... Although he took 25 shots, Agho wasn't playing selfishly and made a number of nice passes ... Brian Barbour is a good floor leader with great court vision, an ideal point guard for an Ivy team ... Blaise Staab started in place of the injured Matt Johnson and fought and scrapped his way to a very nice game ... Chris Crockett showed nice range ... Columbia is predicted to be a bottom-half Ivy team. If that's true, that's going to be a good league this year.

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