NEW YORK -- The vaunted Connecticut backcourt was struggling offensively -- with Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun shooting a combined 6 for 18 from the field in the first half against Boston College.
Yet the Huskies were in control, leading the Eagles by three heading into halftime.
The reason? DeAndre Daniels.
The 6-foot-9 junior forward from Los Angeles had 15 points at the break, finishing with 23 points and six rebounds as Connecticut held on to beat Boston College, 72-70.
“I wanted to stay aggressive on offense,” Daniels said. “My teammates were looking for me, and I knocked down my shots tonight."
Daniels took advantage of the matchup problems he posed for Boston College, constantly getting to the rim off the dribble and finishing, or facing up and making shots from the perimeter. He hit two 3-pointers, and didn't shy away from contact inside.
In his last two games, Daniels has totaled 47 points on 18-of-33 shooting. If he gives the Huskies a consistent offensive threat, they're going to be very difficult to guard.
“I tell him to have that mindset, that attitude off the court,” head coach Kevin Ollie said. “You have to carry that aura around you.”
It's only been five games, but Daniels has been up and down already. He started the season with just eight points on 4-for-14 shooting in the first two games. He wasn't aggressive and looked generally uninvolved at times. His zero-point performance in 18 minutes against Yale was a turning point.
Now, Daniels is taking pressure off Napier, Boatright and Calhoun with his inside-outside ability.
“He just stayed in the gym. He could have made excuses,” Ollie said. “We have a saying, ‘We don't look out the window, we look in the mirror.' We stayed focused. He had to be aggressive, stay in the gym, stay in the lab, and keep working on your game. I'm proud of him.”
The UConn backcourt trio combined to shoot just 10-for-33 from the field on Thursday, but Daniels' effort pushed the Huskies to an undefeated 5-0.
Unfortunately, it also pushed the Boston College to 1-4 after five games. And although it's early, it's almost looking like the Eagles need to win the automatic bid at the ACC tournament or risk missing the NCAA tournament.
Is that harsh? Maybe. But it also might be true.
Steve Donahue's troops have missed on chances against Providence, Massachusetts and now Connecticut (as well as Toledo). The lone win was against Florida Atlantic, by three points at home. The two biggest games left in the non-conference for Boston College is a neutral-site game against VCU and a road game at Harvard. Games against Purdue and Maryland are also on the docket.
But unless Boston College beats both VCU and Harvard, the Eagles might have too big of a hole to dig out of heading into conference play. Sure, they could win 12 or 13 games in the ACC -- but that doesn't look likely.
Olivier Hanlan is a stud, and Ryan Anderson is one of the best big men in the conference. However, the Eagles need more than just those two to compete in the ACC. Joe Rahon was shut out against UConn, and fourth-leading scorer Patrick Heckmann played one minute. Moreover, the Eagles couldn't stop dribble penetration when it counted -- continuing a theme that has been an issue all season.
Providence's Bryce Cotton had 28 points, Massachusetts' Chaz Williams had 20 points, and Toledo's Julius Brown had 23 points and 10 assists. Even though UConn was hitting its shots, the Huskies were still finding ways to make life difficult off the dribble.
“All these failures are going to make us tougher and stronger,” Donahue said. “We have to stay the course. I think we're going to be a good basketball team.”
By that time, it might be too late.