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Huskies need DeAndre Daniels to shine again

DeAndre Daniels #2 of the Connecticut Huskies reacts

DeAndre Daniels #2 of the Connecticut Huskies reacts after a basket against the Iowa State Cyclones during the regional semifinal of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 28, 2014 in New York City. Credit: GETTY IMAGES/ Bruce Bennett

DeAndre Daniels was a Connecticut freshman when Phillip Nolan made a recruiting trip to Storrs, where on his very first day on campus found himself observing an open gym session.

What he saw has stuck with him.

"DeAndre just looked like a superstar there," Nolan said with a smile yesterday as he recalled that first glimpse of his future UConn frontcourt-mate.

"So I always expect the best from DeAndre. I don't expect anything less."

Nolan said that was why nothing surprised him about Daniels' dazzling all-around effort at Madison Square Garden Friday night, when he led an 81-76 victory over Iowa State in an NCAA Eastern Regional semifinal.

The 6-8 junior forward blew away the Cyclones with 27 points (19 in the second half) on 10-for-15 shooting -- including two three-point baskets for dramatic effect -- plus 10 rebounds and two blocked shots.

It was the kind of display that has convinced many in and around the program that even on a team featuring All-America point guard Shabazz Napier, Daniels has the most talent and most pro potential of all.

The trick is getting him to do it consistently. For example, it would be most helpful if he matched Friday's outing in the regional final Sunday against Michigan State and its formidable front line.

(Coach Kevin Ollie's take on what the Huskies' big men must do: "We're going to have to hit first. We're going to have to commit to hit.")

Daniels is second on the team in scoring (13.0 points per game), rebounding (5.8 per game) and blocks (49), but a look at his game-by-game log shows wild swings.

The good news is that he has a string of seven double-digit scoring totals, the longest such streak of his collegiate career. The other good news is he has learned to help in other ways when he is not scoring.

"I've seen him develop from this pure scoring threat to a great all-around player who can really lead the team and create these big-time matchup problems," senior forward Niels Giffey said.

Daniels' development was forged in part by the heat generated by former coach Jim Calhoun, with whom Daniels had some difficult moments as a freshman not living up to his lofty recruiting status.

That would be Calhoun's final season with the Huskies. In retrospect, Daniels believes it helped him.

"I've grown a lot just from my freshman year from not playing a lot," he said. "I learned a lot from Jim Calhoun. He made me tough. He's a hard coach to play for."

Daniels appears to have an easier relationship with current coach Kevin Ollie, but he sees similarities between the two.

"He's just like a Calhoun," Daniels said. "He's very tough, too, to play for."

Napier has been a given for UConn, but when he and fellow guard Ryan Boatwright have a viable inside scoring threat to balance the offense, the Huskies present enormous matchup problems.

Usually, that means Daniels.

"If he keeps playing with that intensity," Giffey said, "he'll always get those types of games like [Friday night] where he just shines and has that type of motor that keeps on running and running."

New York Sports