Hartford-- It has been a long four years for Ryan Boatright. Between a suspension, then dealing with a coaching change and a tournament ban, there have been trying times during these seasons. Finally, the UConn Huskies (11-7,4-2 AAC) are his team. It's his time to stamp his name on the program. This afternoon, against South Florida (7-13, 1-6 AAC), Boatright set a career high in points, finishing with 28, including 13 straight in the second half to put the game away.
"I just knew I was going to go in and play aggressive," Boatright said. "I wasn't going to force anything but I was just going to take the shots that were given to me and I knocked them down."
Boat finished with 28 points on 7-10 shooting, including 4-5 from three point land and 11-12 from the foul line. He chipped in 2 assists and grabbed 2 rebounds as well.
Boatright's performance in the second half was sensational, and necessary. USF had cut into the UConn lead, coming within 6 when Boat went off. It started with a layup, then two free throws, then a three-point play on a jumper. He was on fire, both his shooting and mindset. The persistent whistles from the refs, combined with a rowdy USF bench area, seemed to set Boat over the edge. What followed was pure magic. He hit two more threes over the next minute to extend the UConn lead to 9. South Florida never got that close again.
"Ryan stepped up when it was nip and tuck in the second half," coach Kevin Ollie said. "That's what senior leaders are supposed to do."
Boat was not the only Husky that stepped up today. Rodney Purvis had one of his best games of the season, finishing with 17 points, including an exclamation point dunk at the buzzer to cap off the win. Coming off the bench for the third straight game, Purvis has given this team an offensive punch it's been missing. He's averaging 13 ppg over these last three games.
"Rodney is providing instant energy for us, attacking the rim. Whatever it is with him coming off the bench, he's playing better," Ollie said.
Not all starters respond well to being replaced in the lineup, but Purvis has accepted his new role, noting that he is thriving in it.
"It's cool. Like coach said, I'm giving the team a spark, offensively, defensively. Anything I can do to help the team," Purivs said.
UConn had a chance to really blow out South Florida, but sloppiness cost them again. UConn committed 16 turnovers leading to 18 points for the Bulls.
"I do not like 16 turnovers. We've got to do a better job with that, especially at Cincinnati...We're going to have to make good decision. We can't turn it over 16 times on the road," Ollie said.
The Bulls put up a strong fight for about 32 minutes before UConn really put them away. They were without sophomore forward Chris Perry. He was scratched pre game due to chest pains. USF was led by Nehemias Morillo, who finished with 18 points. At the end of the day, South Florida just had no answer for Boatright.
"UConn did a great job of adjusting in the second half to our zone, and then Boatright got going and made a couple of huge bombs. He saw that ball start going through the basket. And when you're as talented as he is, and he gets a little grooze going, it's hard to stop the floodgates," USF coach Orlando Antigua said.
This is the type of game Boatright needs to have more often if the Huskies want to seriously contend. But for right now, let's enjoy the moment. Coach Ollie said it best about his captain.
"Ryan is a leader. He stepped up to the plate and came in with a little fire in his stomach because I wanted him to play harder. And that's what he did."