Shabazz Napier, Enosch Wolf Step Up When UConn Needed Them Most
But when UConn needed both players to step up big on Friday night, they did.
Napier did all his scoring over the final 10 minutes of action, finishing with 16 points, while Wolf more than doubled his UConn career output with 12 points to lead the Huskies to a 77-71 win over Wake Forest in the Paradise Jam at the UVI Sports & Fitness Center.
“It was a great game, a hard-fought victory,” said coach Kevin Ollie. “We stayed within our game plan. Defensively, I thought we made the key stops when we needed them. That’s something we pride ourselves on.”
And now the Huskies get to face Tom Moore, Scott Burrell and their Nutmeg State brethren Quinnipiac in a winner's bracket semifinal game on Friday at 9 p.m. The Bobcats overcame an incredible performance by Momo Jones to beat Iona late Friday night.
Ryan Boatright also netted 16 for the Huskies and DeAndre Daniels added 12, but Napier and Wolf were the main storylines.
Napier missed all of three of his shots – and both of his free throw attempts – in the first half, and didn’t reach the scoring column until a driving basket with 10 minutes, six seconds remaining that got UConn to within a point (52-51).
That started a 12-0 Husky run in which Napier scored 10 points, capped by his 3-pointer and a conventional 3-point play that gave the Huskies a 61-52 lead.
“We need to have a full game out of him,” said Ollie. “But I’m glad he showed up and took the game over. I told him, there are no other guards better than him – they might be just as good as him, but they’re not better than him – in America. He’s got to understand that and play that way throughout the game. He’s gonna get to that point.”
Wolf, meanwhile, had scored just 11 points in his first two-plus seasons as a Husky. But, pressed into action with Tyler Olander in foul trouble, the big (7-foot-1) man stepped up big.
His 12 points came on a variety of inside spin moves, driving layups, even a 17-foot wing jumper that put the Huskies ahead for good (53-52) with 9:41 to play.
“When I’m open, I can shoot it, just like everybody else,” Wolf said. “We believe in each other and trust in each other. When somebody’s open and can shoot it, shoot it.”
Wolf’s 25 minutes of action nearly doubled his previous career-high of 13.
“Enosch was huge,” Ollie said. “He did a wonderful job. It seemed like we had a big presence, a big fella down there. That felt good, coming down the stretch. He wanted the ball down the post. I liked his confidence.”
Added Wolf: “I’ve worked hard for this, I’ve got a chance. I’ve got to show what I can do and keep going from here.”
With Olander and 6-8 sophomore DeAndre Daniels each picking up two early fouls, Ollie first went to 6-9 freshman Phil Nolan. But Nolan missed a layup and turned the ball over quickly, and Wolf stepped up.
“It’s going to be (Olander) one night, me one night, Phil another night,” said Wolf. “That’s how we’re going to do it.”
Ollie echoed those sentiments.
“You never know when it’s going to be your time to shine,” he said. “Phil’s gotta keep his head up, Tyler’s gotta keep his head up, because we’re going to need everybody. We don’t have Kareem Abdul-Jabbar coming around the corner. One night it’s going to be Tyler, one night it’s going to be Enosch, one night it’s going to be Phil, one night it’s going to be Leon (Tolksdorf).”
The Huskies now face either Iona or Quinnipiac on Sunday at 9 p.m.
*** UConn feels pretty good about landing highly-touted, 6-5 combo guard Brandon Austin out of Philly. Then again, Providence apparently feels pretty good about landing Austin, too.
*** Both of Kemba Walker’s parents, Paul and Andrea, were at the game. Paul has moved back to his native Antigua. Andrea was, per usual, bedecked in her UConn No. 15 jersey.
*** Jim Calhoun watched the game from press row, sitting right between me and the Courant's Dom Amore. It's an educational experience hearing him talk basketball. Obviously, he's not as fiery as when he was on the sidelines. But the table did get banged once or twice.