Here are five quick thoughts from No. 18 Connecticut’s 72-70 win over Boston College on Thursday evening at Madison Square Garden:
X factor: When people talk about UConn, they usually start with the talented backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. But DeAndre Daniels is the player who can turn this team from good into great.
The 6-foot-9, 195-pound junior scored just 19 points in the Huskies’ first three games, including a goose egg against Yale. But in the team’s past two games, he’s exploded for 24 against Boston University and 23 versus Boston College.
Daniels is a matchup nightmare -- he can shoot the 3 or take it to the rim and has some crafty moves in the paint. If he turns into a reliable offensive threat, watch out.
The other end: Napier and Boatright didn’t have great games offensively. Napier did score 20 but shot just 6-for-17 from the field with only two assists; Boatright scored nine. But they did an excellent job on defense, blanketing Boston College star guard Olivier Hanlan.
Hanlan, last year’s ACC Rookie of the Year, came in averaging 24.5 points per game and went off for 38 in BC’s last game, a win over Florida Atlantic. But Napier and Boatright shadowed Hanlan everywhere he went Thursday night.
Hanlan still managed to score 19 points, but he had to work awfully hard to get them.
Contenders: We’re only five games into the season, but we’ve seen enough to say this Connecticut team is capable of making a run to the Final Four.
Four different players are capable of scoring 20-plus on any given night -- sophomore guard Omar Calhoun has that potential, too. They have capable, if somewhat raw, bigs. And they have experience, despite being ineligible for the postseason last year.
Speaking of Hanlan: Yes, he finished under his scoring average. But he was impressive nonetheless.
The best part about Hanlan’s night was he didn’t force the issue. Most big-time scorers would feel the need to hoist up shots regardless of the defense. Hanlan played under control (5-for-14 from the field, 7-for-8 from the foul line), scoring when he could and trying to create for teammates when he couldn’t.
Many teams BC will face this season won’t have guards as quick as Napier and Boatright. Hanlan will have plenty of big games.
Eagles forecast: Boston College did a very nice job hanging around against a more talented opponent. The Eagles could have wilted twice -- when they fell behind by 11 in the first half and when they again fell behind by 11 in the second half. But they bounced back both times to remain within striking distance.
They even had a 3-point shot attempt from near midcourt at the final buzzer that would have won the game, but Boatright blocked Lonnie Jackson’s attempt.
On a hot shooting night, Boston College could beat just about any team in the country. But the Eagles shot just 8-for-25 from beyond the arc Thursday night. That wasn’t quite good enough to take out UConn.