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Ollie wants to see continued improvement

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published December 29. 2012 4:00AM

Storrs - Kevin Ollie often reminds his Huskies not to be allergic to the gym.

They're following their head coach's advice.

Once again, UConn players spent extra time working out after practice ended Friday at Gampel Pavilion.

Ollie fed his perimeter players passes so they could polish their jump shots. He refers to these workouts as basketball development.

UConn (9-2) continues to focus on daily improvement as it heads into its final non-conference game this season, facing Washington (8-4) tonight at 7:30 at the XL Center in Hartford.

The Huskies are seeing positive results, especially on the offensive end, from their overtime work. In the last two games, they're shooting 57.7 percent from the field and averaging 86 points.

Ollie credits his team's work ethic as the reason for the offensive surge.

"Just hard work…," Ollie said Friday. "We had a hard practice - one hour, 45 (minutes) - and you see about every guy stay out here and shoot and do their BD (basketball development). It's paying off. Hopefully, it continues.

"We're going to give ourselves an opportunity to be better on the offensive end if we continue to work. That doesn't mean we're going to shoot 57 percent… But we're giving ourselves a chance, that's all I want at the end of the day."

Other factors also contributed to UConn's recent output.

The Huskies are playing unselfish basketball, searching out good shots and finding the hot teammate. In the last two games, they've averaged 21 assists. Four different Huskies have scored in double figures in each game.

"We're sharing the ball a lot better," freshman Omar Calhoun said. "We're playing better team offense, moving the ball, finding the open guy and making the extra pass. Our chemistry is starting to get better."

Of course the quality of competition, facing Fordham and Maryland-Eastern Shore, also has played a role in UConn's offensive efficiency.

Washington will provide a much more formidable roadblock. The West Coast Huskies have won six of their last seven. It is their second trip East this season, as they defeated Seton Hall (84-73 in OT) and lost to then No. 4 Ohio State (77-66) in the Hall-of-Fame Tip-Off event at the Mohegan Sun in late November.

"We've got a big huge game and Washington is a great opponent…," Ollie said. "They've already made a trip back East and played at the Mohegan Sun, so they're familiar with the traveling. So I don't look at that as an advantage. They're going to come here ready to play.

"They're on a four-game winning streak. They've got some great players and I'm looking forward to the challenge. And I know our guys are looking forward to it too."

Washington has a little bit of everything, from a dangerous perimeter weapon in junior guard C.J. Wilcox (a team-high 19.6 points per game), to one of the Pac-12's top rebounders in Aziz N'Diaye, a 7-foot senior center averaging 9.7 boards per game.

The challenging game is a perfect pre-Big East tune-up for UConn, which visits Marquette in its conference opener Tuesday in Milwaukee.

Ollie sees the game as another chance to polish the team's rough edges. He'd like to eliminate the defensive breakdowns that have contributed to opponents shooting over 45 percent in three of the last four games.

And, of course, there's the ongoing issue of rebounding.

"We've got to keep figuring out ways to win," Ollie said. "We want to shore up some things that we're leaking in and hopefully get better. We're going to use (Saturday) as another stepping stone to get better."

In other news, UConn visited the Newtown Youth Academy Thursday, spending about 90 minutes with about 150 kids. The Huskies signed autographs and played games. It was a memorable visit for all those involved.

"It was something special…," Ollie said. "Kids were smiling. Parents were smiling. We got an opportunity to interact with the kids and just play basketball and just have fun. … Our players were great with them and it was just a great time overall."

g.keefe@theday.com



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Washington at UConn

Location: XL Center, Hartford

Tip-off time: 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

Records: Washington 8-4, UConn 9-2

Last game: Washington beat Northern Illinois, 67-57, Saturday; UConn defeated Fordham, 88-73, Dec. 21

Probable starters: UConn, 6-1 jr. guard Shabazz Napier (16.8 pts, 3.7 assists), 6-0 so. guard Ryan Boatright (16.1 pts, 4.7 assists), 6-5 fr. guard Omar Calhoun (10.9 pts, 3.6 rebs), 6-8 so. forward DeAndre Daniels (10.1 pts, 4.3 rebs), 7-1 jr. center Enosch Wolf (3.5 pts, 2.7 rebs)

Washington, 6-3 sr. guard Abdul Gaddy (13.3 pts, 3.8 assists), 6-5 jr. guard C.J. Wilcox (19.6 pts, 4.5 rebs), 6-6 sr. guard Scott Suggs (13.6 pts), 6-7 so. forward Desmond Simmons (6.3 pts, 8.2 rebs), 7-0 sr. center Aziz N'Diaye (11.8 pts, 9.7 rebs)

Noteworthy, Tune-up for Big East opener at Marquette Tuesday and final non-conference game. … UW Huskies won four in a row. … Washington is 11-20 all-time vs. Big East schools, beating Seton Hall (84-73 OT) on Nov. 17 at Mohegan Sun. … Player to watch: Wilcox scored 20 or more points in seven of last eight games, averaging 21.6 pts during that span. … Top reserve: guard Andrew Andrews (6.7 pts). … Gaddy, Suggs and Wilcox shoot a combined 41 percent from 3-pt range. … Series history: UConn leads, 3-0, winning last meeting 98-92 (OT) in 1996 NCAA Sweet 16. … Hot: Boatright shooting 68 percent (24-for-35) in last three games. Cold: Wolf has just four points and five rebounds since becoming a starter three games ago. … UConn with 42 assists and 20 turnovers in last two games. … Washington picked to finish fifth in Pac-12. … Reserve Shawn Kemp Jr. is son of Shawn Kemp, the former six-time NBA all-star.

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