ROSEMONT, Ill. — Only 1 minute, 11 seconds had expired, and DeAndre Daniels was headed for the bench.
"Coach [Kevin Ollie] took me out because he had just drawn up a play and I went to the wrong side of the court," Daniels said. "So he took me out and said I needed to lock in, and that's what I did."
Daniels was back in the game against Cincinnati less than four minutes later, and he got right into the flow of what became a grueling, possession-by-possession game. He scored 17 points, had five rebounds and five blocks as the Huskies won in overtime Thursday at the XL Center.
"Probably last year, I would have sat on the bench sobbing," Daniels said, "saying 'why did he take me out?' And it would have probably taken me out of my game. But it just made me more locked in and focused."
Daniels, the 6-foot-8 sophomore, has another challenge Saturday night at the Allstate Arena. He will probably be asked for the second time this season to guard DePaul's Cleveland Melvin, one of the top players in the Big East. On Jan. 8, when no one was sure what this UConn team would be about, and no one was sure what DePaul would be, this was considered a troubling prospect for the Huskies. But Daniels stayed on his man and held Melvin to a quiet 18 points and five rebounds, most of that coming late in UConn's 99-78 win. Daniels scored a career-high 26.
The Huskies (18-7, 8-5 in the league) take on the Blue Demons (11-15, 2-11), who have once again sunk to the near-bottom of the Big East, at 8 p.m. Melvin, who once committed to UConn, then decommitted, is putting up respectable numbers, 16.2 points and 7.3 rebounds. Brandon Young, DePaul's leading scorer, scored 35 against UConn in that last game, but it was not enough to carry them. That loss was the first of nine in a row for DePaul, ending any hopes that this season would bring a dramatic rise in the program.
Daniels' second season at UConn has been one of progress. There have been lows, as he has played power forward with a slender body usually associated with the small forward spot. In the first Big East game, he played only 17 minutes, getting the quick hook when Ollie did not like the way he was rebounding. He came back to practice hard, and he grabbed eight against DePaul and is, for what it's worth, the Huskies' leading rebounder with a modest 4.9 a game. Daniels is averaging 11.4 points and has rediscovered his three-point touch, going 15 of 48 after a very slow start.
The story behind these numbers is in Daniels' own admission that, as a freshman, he reacted badly to former coach Jim Calhoun's quick hooks. Ollie might have softer edges, but he is just as demanding and, in year two, a more mature Daniels is responding.
"I just respect DeAndre so much because of where he has come from, as a freshman to now," Ollie said. "He is understanding how to perform in the Big East, how to make an impact on the game. He gave us big-time minutes, big-time shots and the toughness that he showed. I pulled him out after a minute because he gambled [on defense], he didn't give a box out and then he made a bad play [on offense]. But he took it like a man, and that's what this team is all about, they take it and get back in the fight."
UConn's win over the Bearcats was a show of maturity and mental toughness for others, too. His roommate, Ryan Boatright, was 3 of 12 from the floor, his second consecutive poor shooting game, but he did not let it affect his defense. He held his man, Cashmere Wright, a tough assignment, scoreless in the second half and in OT.
Freshman Omar Calhoun played with a wrap on his sprained right wrist. Unable to shoot from outside, his strong suit, he helped his team in other ways, scoring 10, mostly at the line, and getting six rebounds.
Daniels, though, with 17 points and three three-pointers in four attempts, picked up much of the slack. His plus/minus for the game was plus-11. The Huskies outscored Cincinnati by that margin in his 37 minutes.
"A lot of us have really matured since last year," said Boatright, also a sophomore. "DeAndre did a great job today, handling that with his attitude. He's going to keep growing. More praise to him because he came back in and made a difference, when he could have hung his head down, had the wrong attitude and things could have gone the other way for us."