MONDAY-2/17- Saturday afternoon at the XL Center was a day to remind you why you love college basketball. Two outstanding teams, two great young coaches, a roaring crowd. And for the second time this season, that was the scenario for UConn and Memphis. And for the second time this year, UConn won.
The Huskies pulsating 86-81 overtime win before the first XL Center sellout in two years should serve as impetus for the stretch run. UConn didn’t do everything well, in fact , a simple look at the numbers might have indicated they would have lost. Memphis shot a 54.8% from the floor, the best by any UConn opponent this season, they out-rebounded the Huskies by 10, only two other teams have enjoyed a bigger advantage. And they scored 20 fast break points, more than any opponent this season.
But more often than not, numbers don’t team the entire story, and they sure didn’t on Saturday.UConn got outstanding play from Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright who combined for 55 of the 86 points. That’s 64% of the offense and while maybe that formula won’t work all the time, it did on Saturday. Napier put in a career high 34 and sat out a five minute stretch of the first half. He also had five rebounds, four assists and four steals and once again lived up to his reputation as Mr Clutch. Boatright, who has kind of sailed under the radar to people who don’t see this team as often as I do, had 21 including five straight points in overtime to put Connecticut up to stay.
The two biggest plays of the game though, came from bigs. Phil Nolan, who put in 28 minutes, grabbed the offensive rebound to set up Napier’s game time three point play with 52 seconds to go in regulation. And he also set the screen that set up Shabazz potential game winner at the end of regulation that spun around and around before falling out. And it was Daniels who denied Shaq Goodwin a go-ahead dunk with 18 seconds to go and set up the potential game tying shot. Nolan continues to improve game by game and has proven himself to be more than capable in games when Amida Brimah isn’t playing as well.
Memphis aficionados will point to the discrepancy in fouls and free throws and point to that as the reason their team lost. True, the numbers are staggering but one reason for that is for large portions of the game, UConn didn’t play very good defense. And when you don’t play good defense, the odds are you won’t be fouling.
It’s hard to believe there are only three weeks left in the regular season. Hopefully for the Huskies there is a lot more basketball to play. Thursday night at Temple won’t be as easy as some people might have expected after the Owls shocked SMU on Sunday. And they did it without Anthony Lee, one of the top rebounders in the AAC. Then, Larry Brown brings his Mustangs to Gampel on Sunday. I guarantee that will be a raucous atmosphere.
Don’t forget our Coaches Show with Kevin Ollie tonight at 6 at Rooftop 120 in Glastonbury.