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Hartford, CT - Connecticut has led the nation in blocks for eight straight seasons. It may use a different method to win games in 2009-10.

The 12th-ranked Huskies expect to showcase a more speed-oriented team in their season opener Friday night against William & Mary at Gampel Pavilion.

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Connecticut has relied on Emeka Okafor, Hilton Armstrong, Josh Boone and most recently, 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet to become the nation's dominant shot-blocking team. Thabeet, who left after his junior season for the NBA, helped the Huskies average 7.8 blocks last season.

With Thabeet gone, 6-9 freshman Alex Oriakhi will start at center.

"We're down to three big men, so I'm really trying to get myself into shape," Oriakhi said. "I know coach (Jim Calhoun) is expecting a lot out of me, and he's expecting me to play a lot of minutes."

UConn's biggest strength this season should be guards Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker, who combined to average 22.1 points last season as the Huskies went 31-5 and reached their third Final Four.

Oddsmakers from online sportsbook SBG Global have made UCONN -24 point spread favorites for Friday’s game against WM & Mary. Current College Basketball Public Betting Information shows that 89% of more than 149 bets for this game have been placed on UCONN –24.

Dyson missed the NCAA tournament run with a knee injury but looked healthy in a 32-point performance during an 88-50 exhibition victory over UMass-Lowell on Sunday. Walker joins him in the starting lineup after backing up Craig Austrie last season.

"I like our quickness," Calhoun said. "I think we're going to play together. I think the ball will move better. But we won't, I don't think, be able to stop the ball with blocked shots quite the way we have in the past."

Reserve guard Darius Smith will provide some of that quickness. The freshman looked very good in the preseason and will be a part of the rotation.

"It's kind of exciting to know not only does the coaching staff have trust in me, but my players do too," Smith said. "It's all about trust and I'm glad they're putting that trust in me."

Most of the preseason was spent making sure that Dyson was healthy, Walker could handle being the starter at point guard and Oriakhi, Smith and freshman Jamaal Trice got acclimated to the team. The Huskies, picked to finish third in the Big East, feel they reached all of those goals.

"Our whole preseason was great," Walker said. "It all started in practice - guys coming to work every day. It all carried onto the game. I think we played pretty well. I'm very happy going into Friday."

The Huskies have won all 20 home openers at Gampel Pavilion. Dyson has averaged 19.7 points in three season openers.

William & Mary finished in a tie for 10th place in the Colonial Athletic Association last season, and will again be led by David Schneider. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard averaged a team-high 14.1 points in 2008-09 to rank seventh in the league and was a third-team all-conference selection.

Schneider needs 21 points to reach 1,000. His 179 3-pointers rank third on the school's all-time list.

UConn won 51-49 in the last meeting Dec. 28, 1967.

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Posted: 11/12/09 9:13PM ET

 

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