DeAndre Daniels Key to UConn’s SeasonPosted by Todd Keryc (@tkeryc) on November 22nd, 2013
Todd Keryc (@tkeryc) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday night’s game between Connecticut and Boston College in the 2kSports Classic.
Through the first four games of this season, it looked more like 2010 than 2013 for the UConn Huskies. Shabazz Napier, the 6’1” lightning-quick senior point guard, had inherited the role of Kemba Walker and the rest of the roster was there to support him however they could. This was the basic premise of the 2010-11 national championship season in Storrs. Players like Jeremy Lamb, Alex Oriakhi and even Napier himself stepped up when needed but largely deferred to the greatness of Walker and it resulted in a magical March.
This November, it’s been the Napier show in Connecticut. He leads the team in scoring (largely expected), assists (no-brainer) and steals (not terribly surprising). He also leads the team in rebounding, which is stunning when you see that he averages just fewer than 10 per game, nearly six more than anyone else on the team. He is a complete floor general and he bears full responsibility to make UConn succeed. With less flair and without the incredible scoring ability of Walker, Napier has nevertheless turned into the 2013 model of Kemba. And if it continues, UConn has no chance of advancing deep into the NCAA Tournament.
Last night, Shabazz Napier was basically average. Boston College keyed on him and refused to let him take over the game. As a result, he missed a lot of shots (6-of-17) and failed to get his teammates involved (two assists). In other words, he could not generate the kind of offense UConn usually depends on him to create. It was bound to happen and the fact that it happened early this season will only help the Huskies in the long run.
In his place stepped DeAndre Daniels. For the second straight game, the 6’9” junior carried the scoring load for UConn, finishing with 23 points, 15 of them in the 1st half when the Huskies were building a lead. He scored from the post, on dribble penetration, and even hit a couple of treys. He displayed a versatile, all-court game that, given his height and skills, could one day lead him to a spot on an NBA roster. He kept the Huskies in front of BC for an elongated stretch while Napier struggled to get going. Down the stretch, Napier came around to make some plays and yet head coach Kevin Ollie still had options, sometimes allowing Napier his usual freedom and sometimes specifically calling Daniels’ number.
This is why games like last night against Boston College are so meaningful over the course of a long season. Facing a struggling team, UConn found an alternate way to win a game and simultaneously may have found a way to avoid being so one-dimensional (and therefore, defendable). Three seasons ago, it was freshman Jeremy Lamb who rescued Kemba and helped propel the Huskies to the national title. If last night’s game against Boston College is any indication, it will be up to DeAndre Daniels if this group of Huskies is to have any serious March aspirations.