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Payback on the menu for UConn?

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published January 30. 2014 4:00AM
Mel Evans/AP photo
UConn guard Ryan Boatright dunks in the first half of last Saturday's game against Rutgers.
Huskies looking to avenge their New Year's Eve loss at Houston

Storrs - It's no contest when it comes to picking the worst loss of the season for the UConn basketball team.

A 75-71 defeat at Houston on New Year's Eve wins by a landslide.

The Huskies took their opponent too lightly in their American Athletic Conference opener, came out without any intensity and quickly slipped into a double digit hole against a team missing three starters. They staged a second-half comeback but fell short.

They don't plan on making that same fatal mistake again tonight when Houston completes the season series with a visit to Gampel Pavilion for a 9 p.m. game.

"It's kind of a revenge game," senior Niels Giffey said after practice Wednesday.

Junior Ryan Boatright was particularly upset after the Houston loss. The sour taste of defeat still lingers and serves as motivation for him.

"I think it's going to be a whole other game," Boatright said. "I think we definitely went into the (last) game thinking we were going to go in there and get an easy win, especially with them not having three starters.

"We're going into this game with a whole another mindset. We're at our crib, so it's going to be a good atmosphere here."

Since opening the conference season with consecutive road losses to Houston and Southern Methodist, UConn (16-4, 4-3) has gradually improved, especially in the rebounding department, and climbed in the AAC standings. They've out-rebounded five out of their last six opponents and won the five games that they've held that edge.

"We're a better team than we were when we played the first time," Boatright said. "We're more together as a team. We're playing team basketball and everybody is hitting their stride at the right time."

The Huskies might be without junior DeAndre Daniels tonight. He sat out practice this week recovering from a high right ankle sprain suffered in Saturday's win at Rutgers.

Ollie said that Daniels, the team's second leading scorer and rebounder, is making progress but still at about 65 percent. He plans on making a decision on Daniels' status at the shoot-around later this afternoon.

"He's probable," Ollie said of Daniels' status. "He's healing well, but we'll see how it is in the morning and we'll evaluate it and then we'll go from there. … If we held him out of shoot-around, I probably won't play him."

Sophomore Omar Calhoun, who missed the Rutgers game with a sprained ankle, will be back in the rotation.

Houston (11-9, 3-4) has changed, too, since the last meeting.

Two regulars - L.J. Rose and Danuel House - have recovered from injuries and are back in the lineup.

But the Cougars have struggled lately, dropping four of their last five games, due in part to a brutal stretch. Their losses came against upper tier AAC teams in Louisville, Cincinnati, Memphis and SMU.

The Huskies will have to figure out a way to contain junior TaShawn Thomas, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward, Thomas had 23 points and eight rebounds in the first game.

"That's a big time challenge," Ollie said. "I think he's the only one that's in the top five in scoring and rebounding in the American Conference. Whenever you've got somebody like that, he's going to be tough to guard.

"We're going to have to do it by committee and guys are going to have to load up and play aggressive on him.

"… We know what it takes to try to contain him, but we didn't do it last game. Hopefully we do it better this game."

In order to climb back into the regular season title race, the Huskies need to win tonight's game. They'll have a nice break before visiting league-leading Cincinnati next Thursday.

"We've got some good momentum on our side and we want to keep building on it," Ollie said.

g.keefe@theday.com

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HOUSTON AT UCONN

Location: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs

Tip-off time: 9 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Records: Houston 11-9, 3-4; UConn 16-4 4-3

Last game: Houston lost to SMU, 75-68, Sunday; UConn won at Rutgers, 82-71, Saturday

Probable starters: UConn, 6-1 sr. guard Shabazz Napier (17.8 pts, 5.8 assists, 6.0 rebs), 6-0 jr. guard Ryan Boatright (12.3 pts, 3.6 assists), 6-8 jr. forward DeAndre Daniels (13.4 pts, 5.6 rebs), 6-6 grad. forward Lasan Kromah (7.0 pts, 2.4 rebs), 7-foot fr. center Amida Brimah (4.0 pts, 2.9 rebs)

Houston, 6-4 so. guard L.J. Rose (8.5 pts, 5.1 assists), 6-0 sr. guard Brandon Morris (6.5 pts), 6-6 so. guard LeRon Barnes (4.0 pts, 2.9 rebs), 6-8 jr. forward Mikhail McLean (3.0 pts, 2.0 rebs), 6-8 jr. forward TaShawn Thomas (16.4 pts, 8.8 rebs, 3.2 blks).

Noteworthy, UConn won five of last six. Houston lost four of five. … Injury update: So. Omar Calhoun (ankle) available, Daniels (ankle) probable. … UConn leads series, 2-1, losing last meeting 75-71 loss Dec. 31 in Houston behind Thomas's 23 pts. Cougars up by 18 at halftime. … Thomas only player in AAC in top five in scoring (5th) and rebounding (2nd). … Top reserve: 6-7 so. forward Danuel House (13.7 pts, 5.5 rebs). … Hot: Napier averaging 27.7 points in last three games. Cold: Boatright shooting 31.7 percent (13-for-41) in last four games. … Houston ninth in AAC rebounding margin at minus 2.9, UConn third. … UConn 0-3 in 9 p.m. games this season. … Up next: UConn visits Cincinnati next Thursday.

- Gavin Keefe

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