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UConn men reach for their suitcases once again

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published November 16. 2012 4:00AM

UConn arrived at another stop on its Basketball Tour on Thursday.

The Huskies are in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands where they'll compete in the Paradise Jam. Their first of three games is against Wake Forest at 6:30 tonight at the University of Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center.

Once they return home after the last game there on Monday, they'll have covered 11,400 miles during the first two weeks of the regular season.

Judging from its effort in a 67-49 win over Vermont on Tuesday in Storrs, No. 23 UConn (2-0) didn't suffer from any jet lag from a 7,800-mile round-trip venture to Germany where it beat Michigan State on Nov. 9.

Not that coach Kevin Ollie would ever use that as an excuse. Ollie demands maximum effort and intensity every possession.

"No excuses," Ollie said after beating Vermont. "People were throwing that on my porch (Tuesday), in the newspaper. I wasn't subscribing to that. I wasn't subscribing to the excuse of jet lag or coming back or Germany. No, we're not subscribing to that.

"We're subscribing to playing basketball the right way. That's how Connecticut has been doing it throughout these years and when I played here and it's going to be the same thing when I coach here."

This trip, the Huskies will have a far less hectic schedule than during the Armed Forces Classic in Germany.

Depending on their first round result against Wake Forest (1-0), they'll face either Quinnipiac or Iona in the next round. The two losers play Saturday night and two winners on Sunday night.

Quinnipiac is coached by former UConn assistant Tom Moore.

Other teams in the tournament include George Mason, Mercer, New Mexico and Illinois-Chicago.

"It's a business trip," Ollie said. "We're going down there to play hard, play Connecticut type of basketball. But we are going down there to bond a little bit and spend a little time with each other.

"But let's go down there with a motto of, 'We're winning.' We're winning the Connecticut way. That's with effort, that's with dedication, that's with passion. ? We're going to play our way, and that's defense first. And we're going to get out guys out on the fast break and we're going to rebound better."

Dogged defense is quickly becoming the identity of this UConn team. Michigan State (36.4 percent) and Vermont (30 percent) struggled from the field and had a combined 31 turnovers.

The Huskies have allowed an average of 55.5 points per game.

"The way we work in practice every day, coach Ollie stresses defense," R.J. Evans said. "For at least over an hour a day, we just work on straight defense."

Until their offense runs in high gear, the Huskies will lean heavily on defense to carry them. They've yet to crank up their fast break - only 20 fast-break points in two games - in part because they've lost the rebounding battle.

Vermont's frontcourt is hardly intimidating and the Catamounts held a 39-32 rebounding edge.

Wake Forest, which was selected to finish 10th in the Atlantic Coast Conference coaches' preseason poll, appears to lack the inside talent and experience to take full advantage of UConn's weakness.

Outside of senior guard C.J. Harris and junior forward Travis McKie, two of the ACC's top returning scorers, the Demon Deacons are a very young team, with seven freshmen and three sophomores on the roster. They opened the season by beating Radford 79-67 on Nov. 9, but were outrebounded 35-34.

With the field voided of powerhouse opponents, UConn has a decent shot to win another Paradise Jam championship, adding to its title in 2008.

Whatever happens, Ollie will know more about his Huskies after the three games.

"We should do well," junior Shabazz Napier said. "We basically will learn how good we are as a team. It's tough playing three good opponents in three days but we've got to worry about the first game, which is Wake Forest. They're a good team."

g.keefe@theday.com

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No. 23 UCONN vs. WAKE FOREST

Location: University of Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center, St. Thomas

Tip-off time: 6:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Records: UConn 2-0, Wake Forest 1-0

Last game: UConn beat Vermont, 67-49, Tuesday; Wake Forest defeated Radford, 79-67, Friday.

Probable starters: UConn, 6-1 jr. guard Shabazz Napier (19 pts), 6-0 so. guard Ryan Boatright (11 pts, 5.5 assists), 6-5 fr. guard Omar Calhoun (6.5 pts), 6-8 so. forward DeAndre Daniels (9.5 pts, 5.5 rebs), 6-9 jr. forward Tyler Olander (6.5 pts, 7.5 rebs, 4 blks)

Wake Forest, 6-3 sr. guard C.J. Harris (19 pts), 6-3 fr. guard Codi Miller-McIntyre (10 pts), 6-7 jr. forward Travis McKie (11 pts, 9 rebs), 6-9 fr. forward Tyler Cavanaugh (6 pts, 4 rebs), 6-9 fr. forward Devin Thomas (10 pts, 8 rebs)

Noteworthy: First of three games in Paradise Jam. Huskies won the tourney in last appearance in 2008. ... Wake Forest picked to finish 10th in ACC coaches' preseason poll. ... Only two Wake starters back from last year's 13-18 team. Ten of 13 players on roster are either freshmen or sophomores. ... Veterans McKie and Harris, who scored in double figures in all but one game last season, are two of the top returning scorers in the conference. ... Six players scored in double figures in opening win for Demon Deacons, who shot 63.6 percent. ... Top reserves: Wake guard Chase Fischer (11 pts), UConn guard R.J. Evans (8.5 pts). ... Stat to watch: Defensive field goal percentage. Huskies held first two foes to a combined 34.2 percent from the field. ... In first two games, UConn out-rebounded by an average of 41-30.5. ... Kevin Ollie attempting to become first UConn coach to win his first three games since Dee Rowe (1969-70). ... Up next: UConn plays either Quinnipiac or Iona. First-round winners meet Sunday night, losers meet Saturday night. Tourney ends on Monday.

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