For the second time this year, the Harvard men’s basketball team (4-3) will leave the state of Massachusetts, as it heads to Storrs, Conn. to take on the University of Connecticut (6-2).
When the teams met last year at Gampel Pavilion, the then No. 25 Crimson trailed by just two points at the break but missed 11 of its first 12 shots from the floor in the second half and quickly went down by 16, eventually dropping the contest, 67-53.
The scene is different this year. Harvard is missing graduates Keith Wright ’12 and Oliver McNally ’12 and is spending the season without Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey.
UConn, two years removed from a national championship in 2011, has lost three players to the NBA in the last two years. Senior Alex Oriaki transferred to Missouri after the NCAA lowered sanctions on the Huskies that prevent them from competing in postseason play this year.
Former UConn coach Jim Calhoun, who spent 26 straight seasons patrolling the sidelines in Storrs, Conn.—winning 618 games and three national championships with the Huskies—was replaced by former assistant coach Kevin Ollie in the offseason after an abrupt retirement this September.
Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said that while much of the opposing team is in flux—UConn only returns two starters this year—the Huskies present a stiff challenge.
“At the end of the day, it’s still Connecticut,” Amaker said. “It has played some good games this year and it’s been nationally ranked. Kevin has done an outstanding job in the situation that he is in and being able to keep together that program.”
The Crimson took down crosstown rival Boston College for the fifth straight year on Tuesday, putting up 48 points in the second half en route to a 79-63 victory over the Eagles.
Freshman point guard Siyani Chambers scored 21 points and added seven assists for the team, playing 37 minutes and leading a second-half scoring outburst by the Crimson that turned a two-point halftime lead into a 10-point advantage just four minutes into the second half. Sophomore forward Wesley Sanders added 18 points on eight-of-13 shooting with five assists and two steals.
This is the second of Harvard’s three games against schools from the big six BCS conferences. But unlike against Boston College, the Crimson is winless in three attempts against the Huskies with Amaker at the helm, and UConn leads the overall series, 15-2.
Junior co-captain Laurent Rivard, who added nine points and shot two-of-four from behind the arc against the Eagles, said that key matchups in the game will be those against the UConn guards, junior Shabazz Napier and sophomore Ryan Boatright. The two Huskies shoot an identical 84 percent from the free throw line and average a total of nearly 33 points, seven assists, and three steals.
“[Like BC,] UConn will also be a battle,” Rivard said. “They had a good win over at Michigan State, and it’s always a battle in those environments, with big arenas and loud fans.”
“Siyani will definitely have to take one of their guards,” he continued. “For him it will be a good matchup. We will have to stay in front of them and not let them get past us by having good help-side defense.”
Harvard will face an impressive point guard in Boatright, who shares a similar stature with Chambers—both are an even 6’0,” though Chambers is 10 pounds heavier. Both playmakers have had their best games of the season in recent weeks. Boatright scored in double digits five times in the last six games and Chambers had his best two performances of the year in his last three games.
After putting up only two points and three assists in an 18-point loss to St. Joseph’s, Chambers put up 16 points and eight assists against Vermont and then set a career high in points against Boston College.
“I’m very pleased with Siyani,” Amaker said. “He’s done a great job of orchestrating our transition game and running our sets. He’s a presence already on the team as a point guard, and we need him on the floor as our best ball-handler. He’s a kid that has the ability and the opportunity to be the leader, and I’m not surprised by what he’s been able to do and what has transpired over the past weeks.”
—Staff writer David Freed can be reached at email@example.com.