UConn head coach Kevin Ollie has always had a little Confucius in him.
At first glance, it’s easy to wonder what exactly a Chinese philosopher can have in common with a Californian basketball coach. However, Ollie’s uses of anecdotes and phrases have long been his calling card: signs reading “Ten toes in, not five,” “Success is never on sale” and “Be phenomenal or be forgotten” are all left on display just outside UConn’s locker room.
However, the second-year head coach took comparisons to another level Thursday night, as his Huskies were able to get some major revenge for a 75-71 New Years Eve loss to conference foe Houston.
“They ruined my New Years,” Ollie said after his team’s 80-43 trouncing of the visiting Cougars. “Now, we just ruined their Chinese New Years, I guess.”
The Chinese New Year brought out a new look for the Huskies, as the hosts played with fire and passion unseen this season.
While UConn has tended to look flat and disinterested early in games, the Huskies came out of the gates firing, as a 51-22 lead at the half all but sealed Houston’s fate.
“We knew we were going to have a great crowd out there,” said junior point guard Ryan Boatright. “To get them doubting themselves and their confidence low, that was important to us. We jumped on them from the start and, from there, they could never get their rhythm back.”
Despite the obvious emotion stemming from the loss at Houston just under a month ago, Ollie insisted that this wasn’t as much of a “revenge game” per se, as it was more a chance to show how good his team really is.
“I told the guys that it wasn’t a revenge game for us,” Ollie said. “We just wanted to show Houston that we were a better team (than that). That was the only goal we had in mind. To show Houston we were a better team. Win or lose, I don’t care. I just wanted to show them that we are a better team (than before).”
However, senior star Shabazz Napier, who finished with 19 points and seven rebounds, felt a little more strongly about getting another chance at Houston.
“We got better,” Napier said. “We owed them a butt-whooping. We played bad the first game, and we knew we were better than what we played.”
Despite Napier’s stat sheet, the star of the game was sophomore Phil Nolan, as the big man was able to put in 10 points while pulling down seven rebounds, five of which came on the offensive end.
“You take care of the bigs, especially when they’re running like that, and your bigs will take care of you,” Ollie said, praising Nolan’s hustle and effort on the evening.
“I try to come out every game aggressive,” Nolan added, "and tonight was just one of those nights where I happened to get the ball. Fortunately, I converted.”
UConn will need to continue to open the Chinese New Year in style, as a trip to conference-leading Cincinnati looms on the horizon.
“They’re the best team in the league record wise,” Ollie said. “But we can fight with them. I want to show them that we can, and I think that all of our guys are going to step up and play hard… It’s another opportunity to show what UConn is made of.”
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*All quotes obtained firsthand*