THURSDAY, FEB 28 FROM TAMPA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT- For 27 minutes last night, it looked like the UConn Huskies were headed for their most disastrous loss of the season. They trailed South Florida, a team that had lost four in a row by nine points and the shooting malaise that hit the Huskies against SMU was continuing. Then, suddenly one hoop turned into two and two points turned into 18 as in an 18-0 run that put UConn up to stay in a 61-56 win.
It’s impossible to gauge what a loss like that would have done to the Huskies post season chances and luckily, we don’t have to consider that possibility.The great thing about the comeback was it wasn’t just one player. Terrence Samuel, who hadn’t played the previous two games, came in and gave the Huskies a great eight minutes, contributing two points, three steals and most importantly changing the energy of the game. Tyler Olander contributed 21 minutes that can’t be dissected by looking at the box score. He solidified the interior defense like other Huskies couldn’t. Ryan Boatright scored 11 points in the run including a pair of threes that put UConn up 9. Niels Giffey had 11 points, 5 rebounds and locked up Victor Rudd. And of course, the leader of the band was Shabazz Napier. After UConn took the lead, Napier scored 11 of the Huskies final 14 points, including the three that iced the win with 24 seconds to go. I am biased because I see “Bazz” more but he is at least the equal of Sean Kilpatrick when it comes to AAC Player of the Year honors.
And Kevin Ollie made a great strategic decision to go with the zone for a portion of the second half that included the 6’1 Napier in the back of the 2-3 zone. USF couldn’t solve that riddle and it helped UConn take the lead.
Having said all that, the first 27 minutes can’t be duplicated by the Huskies again this season. They need to start playing with more consistency and get back to shooting better (like they did in the second half) and rebounding better. And that starts with Saturdays XL Center finale against first place Cincinnati that begins at noon.
More on that later, time to hop the plane back to BDL!
Tomorrow night on SportsTalk, I’ll talk with Bloomfield native and KC Chiefs defensive back Marcus Cooper and Travelers Championship tournament director Nathan Grube