What a game.
In two contests as conference rivals, UConn and Memphis have played two extremely competitive, hard fought battles in what is quickly becoming a fun and fierce rivalry in the American Athletic Conference. Unfortunately for the Tigers, UConn has prevailed both times- winning today's game in the XL Center 86-81 in overtime.
The story of the day was undoubtedly Shabazz Napier's unreal 34 point performance. After a 9 point first half where Napier was mysteriously sitting for a large chunk towards the end, he absolutely exploded in the second stanza. By the final whistle he had accumulated 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals to go along with his season-high point total.
Time and time again Shabazz just kept making plays- I honestly don't even know where to begin. There was the off-balance jumper from the bottom of the lane where he was fouled, the in-your-eye deep three, the drive to the lane for a 3-point play to tie it with 40 seconds left, the three in overtime to put us back up by five after a Memphis three, my brain is so fried right now, but I know I'm forgetting others.
Shabazz's backcourt running mate, Ryan Boatright, had himself a game as well. Boatright led the charge in the first half when Napier was sitting and then followed it up with a very strong second half. He had six assists to go with a season-high 21 points. Two of those points came on a very pretty finish down low against Shaq Goodwin after a beautiful pass from Shabazz.
This was truly a game of runs. UConn had a 15-0 run over nearly 5 minutes in the first half, building a 23-14 advantage, but then immediately ceded an 11-0 run to lose the lead. We were up one at the half, 36-35. UConn was leading, albeit by only a couple of points for most of the second half until Memphis mounted an 8-0 run late to go up three with 1:28 left. A Napier miss was rebounded by Phil Nolan to set up Shabazz's aforementioned three-point play to tie the game. A DeAndre Daniels block helped draw a shot-clock violation to get the ball back with 16.8 seconds left in a tie game. Everyone in the building knew that Shabazz Napier would be taking the final shot. Undeterred, the Mighty Mighty Bazzstone (trademark pending) let one fly that almost ended the game.
Napier's last second shot tragically rimmed out in the most brutal way possible. We were going to overtime. The extra session pretty much went all UConn thanks to the stellar play of Napier and Boatright keeping the Tigers at bay. As we approach March Madness, it's great to see our guards playing so well together.
The box score won't show any other standout performances, but UConn's role players all made worthwhile contributions. Even Tyler Olander scored four points in 20 minutes on the court. Phil Nolan showed great poise with solid defense down low and some nice finishes around the basket. He wasn't great, but the sophomore is clearly showing signs of improvement and earned all 26 of the minutes he logged today. The hustle play of the day goes to Lasan Kromah, who kicked a loose ball all the way down the court, chased it down and dove across the floor to try and recover it, narrowly failing to make the play. This effort was rewarded with a standing ovation from the Hartford crowd.
On paper, it appears that Memphis did everything right if they wanted to win. They shot 55% from the field, had a +10 rebounding advantage, and outscored the Huskies in the paint 42-24. Three things killed them. First was turnovers- the Huskies scored 19 points off of 18 Memphis turnovers, while only having six of their own. Secondly, the Tigers sent one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the country to the line 36 times, with UConn hitting 29 of them. Memphis only shot nine free throws, making six. Third, they didn't have Shabazz Napier.
This is a big win for UConn and one that they needed if they were going to make it into the top three in the conference standings. They're now tied with Memphis for fourth, a full game behind third place SMU. Luckily the Huskies have a home date with the Mustangs next weekend, and certainly will have revenge on their mind after losing to Larry Browns team in Dallas.
Gampel will be loud next Sunday afternoon folks, but Ted's is where I'll be as I make my first trip up to Storrs since last years season finale against Providence. Doors open at 12- see ya there.