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Huskies get back to work

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published January 21. 2014 4:00AM

The definition of a desperate team depends on your point of view.

Temple, which visits UConn tonight for an American Athletic Conference game at 7 at the XL Center in Hartford, clearly falls into that category.

The injury-plagued Owls (5-11, 0-5) are mired in a six-game losing streak - their longest drought since the 2001-02 season - and reside in the AAC basement.

UConn (14-4, 2-3), on the other hand, is coming off a frustrating loss to No. 12 Louisville on Saturday and is just 3-3 in its last six games.

The Huskies are definitely in better shape than the Owls, so does that makes Temple the more desperate team?

Not according to coach Kevin Ollie.

"They're a desperate team and we're desperate," Ollie said. "We need a win. We need to protect our house and defend our home court. We're going to be two desperate teams. It's not going to be one desperate team. We're desperate just as much as they are."

The Huskies may be without starting guard Ryan Boatright, who played with a heavy heart against Louisville and then went home to Aurora, Ill., on Sunday. His cousin, Arin Williams, was shot to death in Boatright's hometown last week.

As of Monday afternoon, Ollie was unsure whether Boatright, the team's third leading scorer, would return in time for the game.

"When he left, he said he wasn't going to be back," Ollie said. "But then we talked and he might be back, so it's a 50-50 decision. I'm planning on him not being back. If he doesn't, we say this all the time: Next man up."

To prepare for Boatright's potential absence, graduate student Lasan Kromah, a 6-foot-6 swingman, played some point guard in practice. Freshman Terrence Samuel and struggling sophomore Omar Calhoun are other backcourt options.

Samuel is excited about the opportunity.

"It's my time, so I've just got to show what I can do," said Samuel who's seen limited action appearing in just 10 games.

A pass-first point guard from Brooklyn, N.Y., Samuel admits the lack of playing time has bothered him.

Some encouraging words from veterans Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels helped Samuel adopt the proper mindset and work habits. Daniels went through a similar frustrating experience as a freshman, averaging just 12 minutes per game.

"He told me you've just got to keep improving because your time is going to come and you've just got to wait," Samuel said of Daniels. "I just think about that every time I put my head down and I get back in the gym."

Ollie's biggest concerns lingering from the Louisville game rest in the rebounding and zone offense departments.

The Huskies lost the battle of the boards by a decisive margin (45-30) against the Cardinals after outrebounding their previous three opponents.

"I thought we were turning that corner and rebounding well," Ollie said. "But it happens. But I was surprised. We have to step up and take that challenge."

It took until the second half for the Huskies to start attacking gaps in the zone instead of firing up shots from the perimeter.

Expect Temple to play zone, a defense that Ollie said that he'd use if coaching against the Huskies.

With four players averaging at least 14 points, the Owls are a dangerous offensive team.

They'll be bolstered by the expected return of point guard Will Cummings, who missed the last two games with an injury. Junior forward Anthony Lee is averaging a league-best 9.9 rebounds.

"That's not a 5-11 team," Ollie said. "They've got talent. Their point guard is coming back, I believe. . He's going to come back and help them distribute the ball even more. Their pick-and-roll offense is great and they're shooting the ball unbelievable. I know coach (Fran Dunphy) is going to have them ready to go."

g.keefe@theday.com

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