ESPN's Bilas, Williams impressed by UConn men's basketball

Published on Wednesday, 6 December 2017 22:43
Written by Neill Ostrout

Journal Inquirer

NEW YORK - The UConn men’s basketball team may not have hit its stride yet this season, but the Huskies are still capable of making waves according to a pair of veteran ESPN analysts.

Jay Bilas and Jay Williams, who were on hand to help broadcast the Jimmy V Classic doubleheader Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, have both watched the Huskies rather closely this season.

Bilas sees some flaws in the Huskies, but also potential.

“They’re not as big as you’re used to in the past, but they’ve got some good pieces,” Bilas said. “The solution lies in playing hard together more consistently. I think a lot of their players play really hard. I’m not sure they all play really hard consistently at the same time.

“As they get better through the season, that should improve,” Bilas continued. “They’re in a really good league. It will be difficult, but they’re capable.”

Williams, speaking before UConn’s 72-63 loss to Syracuse, felt atmosphere and opponent Tuesday might help jumpstart the Huskies’ season.

“This is when legends are made. There’s history there, too,” Williams said. “I know it’s not history between these players in particular, but when there’s legendary history between programs, you feel that when you’re on the court. That carries a different kind of vibe and energy.”

Williams says he’s known UConn coach Kevin Ollie since the two were in the NBA, and has a great deal of familiarity with the Huskies.

“I’ve known Kevin Ollie for a very long time. He was my mentor when he was with the Milwaukee Bucks. That guy truly helped me through one of the darkest times in my life, when I got into my accident,” said Williams, who as involved in a serious motorcycle crash in June 2003 following his rookie season in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls. “So I know all those kids. I know Jalen Adams. I’ve been watching him since he was a little one.”

Williams says he believes Ollie has the ability to get the Huskies back to national prominence, and that it starts with recruiting.

“He has NBA relationships. And to get that next tier of players, you need to be able to showcase those relationships and count upon those relationships to help you,” Williams said.

Not a yearly deal?

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim liked playing UConn, or at least appreciated the games’ significance, when the two were in the Big East together. Now that the Huskies and Orange are in different leagues, Boeheim doesn’t see an absolute need for the two to keep playing every year.

“It was a great rivalry. We had great games,” Boeheim said. “But when you’re in a league, you’re in a league. That’s what’s important. It’s just the way it is.”

Boeheim knows the two can draw fans, however, which is why the two will still try to play when they can.

“I don’t think any two schools are going to put more people in the Garden than what we put in there tonight,” Boeheim said.

Gilbert in limbo

UConn guard Alterique Gilbert missed his third straight game and Ollie gave no more clues about when the redshirt freshman point guard might return to the lineup.

“Al is rehabbing,” Ollie said, referring to Gilbert’s shoulder injury. “We’re just waiting on what his heart tells him. He’s been through a lot. Multiple surgeries. I just think he wants to get healthy. There’s no answer yet. We’re just waiting for Al.”

Ollie has said previously that he’s not sure if another surgery is the answer for Gilbert.

“The ultimate decision will be made by Alterique,” Ollie said.

Red zone

Syracuse is the team known for its zone defense but Ollie has dabbled in the defensive approach rather regularly as his tenure as UConn’s head coach has progressed.

Ollie’s predecessor, Jim Calhoun, was loathe to play zone defense in his later years at UConn, but Ollie insists he doesn’t mind - to a point.

“I like throwing zone in there a little bit, yeah, just to throw the team off balanced,” Ollie said. “I like to do it but at the end of the day if I have to get a stop, I’ll probably go man.”

Free throws

UConn’s regular season finale March 4 at Houston will be played at Texas Southern University’s H&P Arena. The game had been one the host Cougars had hoped to play in downtown Houston at the Toyota Center, home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets. The University of Houston basketball team is playing all of its games off campus this season, most at Texas Southern, as its home court is undergoing major renovations.

Posted in Newington Town Crier, UConn on Wednesday, 6 December 2017 22:43. Updated: Wednesday, 6 December 2017 22:45.