The University of Connecticut opened defense of its 2010-11 national championship with a resounding 70-57 victory over Columbia before a raucus sellout crowd of 10,167 fans at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs and a national television audience on ESPNU on Friday night. The Huskies, which led from start to finish, were led by sophomore star Jeremy Lamb who pumped in a career-high 30 points, and fellow sophomore guard Shabazz Napier who added 21.
Noruwa Agho, a 6-3 senior guard from New City, N.Y., led the Lions’ effort with 16 points, four rebounds and two assists.
Although a 13-point victory at home against an Ivy League foe may not seem like an overwhelming endorsement, this team showed flashes of what experts have been saying all along–even without last year’s leader Kemba Walker, the Huskies will be better this year than last. How can a team improve on a national championship?
Well, for starters, he Huskies really weren’t all that good last year–until the Big East Championship, that is. With a 21-9 regular season record (but just 9-9 in conference play), had the Huskies not won five games in five nights in New York last March, they would have been headed to the N.I.T. instead of The Dance.
And while Walker was a steady contributor and a major calming influence throughout the season, it was the youngsters–freshmen Lamb, Napier, Roscoe Smith and Tyler Orlander, an E.O. Smith graduate who grew up in the shadow of Gampel–who came into their own during the wild postseason ride that began in New York and culminated in Houston with the Huskies’ third national championship.
Last night was proof positive that they are youngsters no more, and leads one to wonder how there can be three teams better than the Huskies–certainly at this point of the season.
Lamb, who looks to have inherited Walker’s “go-to” spot, was a scorching 11-for-17 from the floor vs. Columbia, including 5-for-8 from beyond the three-point arc.
“I’m not trying to be Kemba,” said Lamb after the game. “This is a different team. I think I have to score a little more, but like I said there are a lot of weapons.”
“It was tough; they played me well,” he continued. “They were real physical with me. They had good defenders so I really had to use my screens. I can’t say it came easy.”
In addition to knocking down 21 points, Napier contributed eight assists and six rebounds to the Huskies effort.
“Guys like myself and Jeremy—we had to actually score a lot of points today, but hopefully it’s not going to be like that all the time,” said the 6-1 guard from Roxbury, Mass. “I don’t like scoring a lot of points. I love passing the ball.”
This isn’t to imply that there isn’t a ton of work to do, of course. While the Huskies were dominant from the perimeter, the same could not be said for their play in the paint. Orlander scored eight points and grabbed eight boards. Starting center Alex Oriakhi, however, was held to two points, and Andre Drummond, the much-ballyhooed 6-10 freshman center from Middletown, did not score a single point. He did, however, contribute four boards.
Orlander, for one, doesn’t seem concerned about Drummond’s rather inauspicious debut.
“It’s his first college game with a D1 team,” said the hometown hero. “I know Andre’s going to respond real well……He knows what to expect now.”
Next up for the Huskies will be another tune-up, this time with Wagner on Monday night at Gampel. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m., and the game will be televised throughout the tri-state area on SNY, and broadcast on the UConn radio network.