FRIDAY, MARCH 21, BUFFALO: Post season basketball is unlike figure skating or three meter diving. There are no style points, no one cares how you win, only if you win. Last night, the UConn men struggled mightily against St.Joseph’s but in the end, it was the Huskies moving onto round three of the NCAA East Regional with a pulsating 89-81 overtime win.
For much of the first half, it looked like the Huskies latest tournament appearance would mimic their last, the 2012 loss to Iowa State. The Hawks were as good as advertised, maybe even better, They were getting open threes, passing the ball brilliantly and getting relatively easy hoops. When St Joe’s went up 10 with 3:16 to go in the half, UConn’s season hung in the balance. But the Huskies closed the gap to a more than manageable five at halftime. Then even though St Joe’s always seemed to have an answer when UConn was on the verge of taking the lead, the Huskies didn’t waver. They battled and battled, forcing overtime on a 3 point play by Amida Brimah with 39 seconds to go, played outstanding defense to force a shot clock violation on the Hawks final possession and went on to dominate the overtime, scoring a school record 19 points in the extra session.
The play of the game, obviously, was the Brimah three point play. When he grabbed the rebound of the Shabazz Napier miss, Brimah said he heard someone calling for the ball. But the big fella took it himself, scored and got fouled. Then, facing the biggest shot of his still burgeoning career, he calmly swished the free throw. Admit it, UConn fans, it’s not a position you would have wanted to see Brimah in two months ago. But he has matured and Amida is starting to show the raw skills that have the UConn coaches so excited.
Then in overtime, Napier and DeAndre Daniels stepped up. Napier’s late season shooting slump continued but the All-American never wavered in his confidence and gave his teammates credit for helping him stay focused. Daniels was immense in the second half and overtime. DeAndre is playing the best basketball of his career, and last night was the best big on the floor in the final 25 minutes.
But last night all of the Huskies chipped in. Ryan Boatright was immense with four threes and another steady floor game. Niels Giffey played the final 11 minutes with four fouls and again added toughness and leadership. Lasan Kromah had his best game in weeks, especially at the defensive end where he forced St Joe’s star Langston Galloway into the shot clock violation at the end of regulation and played within himself at the offensive end. It was truly a team effort.
So now, it’s reunion time with old friend Villanova. The Cats started slowly but took charge in the second half to eliminate Milwaukee. Jay Wright’s team was the dominant team in the Big East this season and will be favored tomorrow night. But this UConn team is playing with something to prove and should be up to the challenge.
Yes, it’s another late night for the Huskies, their 8th game to start after 9 pm this season. But a 9:40 start is a far better alternative that putting the gear away and waiting til next season.
Our pre game tomorrow night is 9. It should be a great evening and I hope you can join us.