Ryan Boatright was not going to let it happen again.
He was having deja vu after missing a free throw late in the game, fearing another heartbreaking loss. It had happened twice earlier this season, against Yale and Texas, where UConn's captain had a chance to seal the win at the free throw line. This time, with the season on the line, the UConn point guard delivered.
Boatright sunk his step-back game winner through sheer will power. He willed that ball around the rim and through the net for his teammates, his mother, his school and his fans, but perhaps most of all, for his legacy.
The Huskies are surviving and advancing after the thrilling victory over Cincinnati last night, and today have the third match-up of the year with 2-seeded Tulsa. These teams split the first two games, with Tulsa winning in Oklahoma 66 to 58, only for the Huskies to blow the doors off the Golden Hurricanes 70-45 one month later on the very court they will be playing on today.
One month later, Tulsa has won 5 of their last 7 and are about as on the bubble as you can get. With a loss today against UConn, it could effectively knock Tulsa out of the tournament, while a win could give them just enough to sneak into the field of 68.
Bottom line, both of these teams are fighting for their tournament lives. As for the match ups, UConn has the ability and the personnel to lock down Tulsa's perimeter-oriented offense, as shown by their 25 point drubbing last time these teams met at the XL center.
Tulsa is led by guards James Woodard (14.8 ppg) and Shaquille Harrison (13.4 ppg), each of whom also average 4.6 and 5.0 rebounds per game, respectively. Woodard is a lights-out three point shooter, hitting from long range at a rate of almost 40%, while Harrison is the team's primary facilitator, averaging 3.7 assists per game. These two are the keys to Tulsa's offense, and Woodard should should see a combination of Boatright and Terrance Samuel defensively. The two combined to hold the sharp shooter to 0 points on 0-7 from the field in their last meeting.
Meanwhile, I expect Rodney Purvis to match-up with the 6-foot-5 point guard Shaquille Harrison. Purvis is playing his best defense in a UConn uniform, coming up with key steals and seeing time against the opponents' best players as he has been using his offense to pick up his intensity on the other end. Purvis has hit double figures in 9 of his last 12 games and simply has not smiled this much on the court since he's arrived!
His roommate, Daniel Hamilton, was key in last night's victory, making a stop at the bank with an enormous three point shot that stretched UConn's lead late in yesterday's game while adding 8 rebounds and 5 assists, both leading the team. Omar Calhoun, Philip Nolan, and Rakim Lubin all gave solid contributions with Amida Brimah in foul trouble and Kentan Facey still out with a concussion.
UConn's bench has got to come up big today, as Tulsa relies on eight players and loves to run the floor. The Golden Hurricanes do not have great size but still rebound the ball quite efficiently, so hopefully Brimah will be able to stay on the floor a bit longer than his 17 minutes last night.
Tulsa plays similar defense to Cincinnati; an active 2-3 zone that has everybody crashing the boards. For UConn to win, it is going to need to do exactly what it did yesterday- limit turnovers (3 last night) and make open shots (11 threes!). The Huskies played with beautiful ball movement against the top defense in the conference and have shot incredibly on the XL center floor. Kevin Ollie has this team believing, and against a team who UConn wiped off this floor one month ago, I'm finding it hard to see why they can't do it again.
Here's to the journey continuing, see you in Hartford!
Prediction: UConn 67 Tulsa 54