SEATTLE — The end of non-conference play has arrived and gives Washington a final shot at a quality win.
The Huskies travel to the state of Connecticut for the second time this season, this time to face the University of Connecticut in Hartford at 4:30 p.m. today.
When longtime coach Jim Calhoun announced his retirement during the offseason, players began to leave the UConn campus, too. Without Calhoun, who coached for 40 seasons and won 866 games during his time at Northeastern and Connecticut, and key players such as Alex Oriakhi, who transferred to Missouri, little was expected of UConn.
But, former UConn and Seattle SuperSonics guard Kevin Ollie took over a guard-heavy team and has it sitting a tad outside the top-25 rankings at 9-2. Connecticut’s only losses are against New Mexico and North Carolina State, which are a combined 22-3.
Playing the Wolfpack also gives UConn the benefit of facing the only other Division I team in the country besides Washington that predominantly runs the high-post offense. Connecticut has won three in a row and five out of six.
“We’ve got a big, huge game ahead of us (today),” Ollie said. “They have already made a trip east once this year, so they are familiar with the traveling. I don’t look at that as any advantage for us.”
Washington’s last jaunt east produced mixed results. UW hung on to beat Seton Hall in overtime and lost to then-No. 4 Ohio State, 77-66, both in Uncasville, Conn. The first half against Seton Hall was perhaps Washington’s best of the season.
Those games were more than a month ago. Washington has won four in a row and is four points from having a seven-game winning streak. Yet, persistent problems still exist.
Because of Andrew Andrews’ ankle injury, Abdul Gaddy has been forced to handle the ball throughout games. His assist-to-turnover ratio is about even, a mark that is well off his career 2-to-1 average. Gaddy is on pace to turn the ball over 112 times his senior year, though he is averaging a minute less of playing time than last season. Tony Wroten set the school record of 132 turnovers as a freshman last season.
“I think there’s been an adjustment this year,” Romar said. “The other three years he had Tony Wroten and Isaiah Thomas alongside of him. They all helped each other. This year is the first time he’s had the ball in his hands this much.
“I’ve been seeing some progress in that assist-turnover (ratio). I’ve also seen him make some nice passes to guys where he’s started to set guys up.”
Gaddy has also increased his scoring. He’s averaging double-figure shot attempts per game for the first time in his career. He has bumped his points-per-game average from 8.1 to 13.3.
“Somehow, you settle in on a happy medium of scoring more and taking care of the ball more,” Romar said.
He’ll also have to defend today. Connecticut has two swift guards with swagger: Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright.
“They’re both very tenacious competitors,” Romar said. “You can see that they both play with a lot of fire.”
This second trip to Connecticut is the start of an extended journey for Washington, which plays four consecutive games on the road – including the first three of Pacific-12 Conference play. Washington opens Pac-12 play at Washington State, then heads to the Bay Area to face Cal and Stanford.
“Doesn’t get any easier for us,” Romar said.
Which makes today so crucial.
WASHINGTON (8-4) AT CONNECTICUT (9-2)
4:30 p.m., XL Center, Hartford, Conn.
TV: ESPN2. Radio: 950-AM, 102.9-FM
All-time series: UConn leads, 3-0
Abdul GaddyPG13.32.5 3.845.073.5
C.J. WilcoxG 19.64.5 2.0 48.686.7
Scott SuggsF13.32.8 2.146.684.6
Desmond SimmonsF 184.108.40.2060.477.5
Aziz N’DiayeC11.8 9.7 0.363.244.9
Scouting report: UConn has two potent guards in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Both are extremely quick, the kind of players that have given Washington’s perimeter defense problems this season and even last year. Washington has defended the 3-point shot poorly this season, but UConn shoots 33.2 percent from behind the 3-point line. Each team struggles with rebounding.
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