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Daniels could be an 'X factor' for Huskies vs. Saint Joseph's

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published March 19. 2014 4:00AM

The impressive move came out of nowhere.

Not even the author of the highlight reel dunk could explain it.

During Saturday's American Athletic Conference championship game loss, UConn junior DeAndre Daniels beat a Louisville defender off the dribble, glided down the lane, split two defenders and finished with a powerful one-handed dunk.

It was one of those "why don't you do that more often" moments.

"During the game I just looked at him, there you go," senior Shabazz Napier said. "I was kind of confused because I hadn't seen that in awhile. DeAndre is a talented, talented guy. Sometimes just something in his own ability is stopping him from doing things like that. I don't know what it is.

"If I was 6-6, 6-8, I would be doing that every single time. I would enjoy dunking on people. I'm happy to see him do things like that because I know how talented he is. I just wish everyone else knew how talented he is."

If the aggressive instead of passive Daniels shows up in the NCAA tournament, seventh-seeded UConn's odds of making a deep run significantly improve.

Daniels is enjoying one of best stretches of all-around basketball this season. He's averaging a team-high 15.2 points and 8.0 rebounds in the last four games. In the second half against Louisville, Daniels dominated at times, scoring 15 of 17 points. He attacked the zone and scored, grabbed rebounds and was a defensive pest.

The more times Daniels touches the ball, the more productive he usually is, according to coach Kevin Ollie.

"He's been good," Ollie said. "DeAndre's energy has been up and his touches have been up. We don't really concern ourselves about his points because we know if he gets his touches and gets his rebounds, he's going to get his three offensive rebounds and he's going to get to the bucket."

Daniels is excited about playing in the NCAA tournament, facing 10th-seeded Saint Joseph's on Thursday (6:55 p.m., TBS) at First Niagara Center in Buffalo.

"I'm feeling good where I am," Daniels said. "Everything on my body is fine. I'm 100 percent. Now I just have to be more aggressive. It's a one game elimination and everybody on the team is going to leave it out on the floor."

All season the UConn coaching staff has encouraged Daniels, an athletic 6-foot-8 forward, to come out of his shell. He's been wildly inconsistent throughout his career - one game stealing the spotlight and another disappearing into the shadows.

A high ankle sprain in late January that sidelined him for two games was a set-back. When he returned, he had not fully recovered and it showed. He recently went a season-high four games without scoring in double figures.

Daniels snapped out of his scoring funk in a humbling regular season loss at Louisville on March 8. He delivered three straight strong games in the AAC tournament, leading the Huskies to wins over nationally ranked Memphis and Cincinnati.

Now Daniels will attempt to continue his roll against St. Joseph's, the Atlantic 10 Conference championship game winner.

"He's the X factor, "Napier said. "He's got to continue that. His consistency is always a question every single time. I just told him to go out and play and have fun. Sometimes he looks like he's not having fun and it disrupts how he plays.

g.keefe@theday.com

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