It took a 1,700-mile trip offshore and two overtimes, but UConn managed to maintain its supremacy over in-state rivals on Sunday night.
The Huskies survived a terrific upset bid by Quinnipiac, battling back from a 10-point deficit with less than five minutes remaining and holding on for an 89-83, double-overtime victory in the Paradise Jam
at the UVI Sports & Fitness Center.
“It was a hard-fought victory,” said UConn coach Kevin Ollie. “My hat’s off to the guys in the locker room, they played hard. We just made plays at the end. It was just a gut-check win for us.”
Conjuring up thoughts of UConn’s classic, six-overtime battle with Syracuse in 2009, and seriously jeopardizing the Huskies’ 26-year dominance over Nutmeg State foes, the game seemed headed Quinnpiac’s way after Garvey Young’s 3-pointer with 4 minutes, 56 seconds left in regulation put the Bobcats up 55-45.
But Ryan Boatright countered with a conventional 3-point play and Napier scored 11 of the Huskies’ final 13 points – including a driving layup to tie the game at 61 with 4.2 seconds remaining.
“The guys gave me the ball, I made a quick move,” Napier said. “I saw the guard was kind of far off, and kind of went to this go-to move I usually go to. I work on that so many times, I was just thankful it went in.”
Napier then came up with a steal near midcourt, but his desperation heave was off the mark.
Quinnipiac’s Dave Johnson hit a 3-pointer with 4.4 seconds left in the first overtime, and Napier misfired on a long 3-point attempt, sending the game into a second OT. There, Napier kicked things off with a trey and the Huskies never again trailed.
“We just stuck together, kept our composure,” said Napier, a junior guard. “I felt like the guys felt we still had a chance to win the game. Up to that point, we didn’t play as well as we should have. We stepped up our game, and luckily we got some bounces our way and won the game.”
UConn has now won 67 straight games against in-state foes, dating back to a Dec. 29, 1986 loss to Hartford in former coach Jim Calhoun’s first year at the helm. The Huskies are now 16-0 against former Calhoun assistants (Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore was on Calhoun's staff for 13 seasons).
Boatright added 18 points and Omar Calhoun had 17 as the guard trio accounted for 64 UConn points. The Huskies also got a burst of energy in the first half from freshman Phil Nolan, who had six points and five boards in eight minutes of action.
Johnson led five Bobcat players in double figures with 16 points and Young added 15. Ike Azotam inished with 10 points and nine boards before fouling out.
“It’s hard,” said Moore. “My kids are a little devastated, because they feel they were close to beating a team that they have a lot of respect for. In tournaments like this, you don’t get extra points for playing really well against a good team.”
Napier had scored all 16 of his points in the final 10 minutes of action in UConn’s 77-71 win over Wake Forest in its tournament opener on Friday.
“I hate when I do that,” he said of his slow starts the past two nights. “I feel like I take so many shots, mentally I get out of the game. Coaches and players tell me to keep on shooting, keep on getting to the basket. I took it upon myself to trust what they were telling me. I got to the basket numerous times.”
Added Ollie: “He didn’t do it the first half, but he was attacking. Some of the shots were poor shots, and we’ll talk about that, but he was attacking. He put a little too much pressure on himself at first, but he hit some big shots at the end for us. That’s what a leader does.”
UConn hit 39 of 45 free throws, matching the highest total of made free throws in a game in program history, including 23 of its final 24. The smaller Quinnipiac, which plays in the Northeast Conference, outrebounded the Huskies, 44-35.
“Those guys put a lot of pressure on you, and on the referees, because they initiate a lot,” Moore said of Napier and Boatright, who combined to go 23 of 25 from the charity stripe. “They’re very crafty, both of them. They’re very savvy, great IQ, great feel.”
UConn advances to the tournament finals, where it will face New Mexico on Monday at 10 p.m. The Steve Alford-coached Lobos got a last-second 3-pointer from Tony Snell to edge George Mason 70-69 on Sunday.
“They’re a good team, they showed resiliency, too,” Ollie said of the Lobos. “They’ve got great shooters, they’re big at every position. It’s going to be a challenge. They don’t have any give-up, either. I know Steve Alford, he’s going to have his guys well-prepared, and it’s going to be a great game.”
Alford said he’d only seen UConn on TV against Michigan State prior to last night.
“They look athletic, they look big, they’ve got two dynamite guards that obviously really run and control their offense,” Alford said. “We’re going to have to guard their drive, and they’re big inside, as well.”
Quinnipiac faces George Mason Monday at 7:30 p.m.
Labels: Dave Johnson, Garvey Young, Ike Azotam, Kevin Ollie, Omar Calhoun, Phil Nolan, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, Steve Alford, Tom Moore