If it weren't for the play of Shabazz Napier, the UConn Huskies men's basketball team might not be in the position they are in right now. Sure they can't play for a Big East Tournament title or even a national title.
All they can do is play for pride and help their coach Kevin Ollie get to 20 wins in his first season. And if Napier plays like he did in overtime, he'll surely get his coach to that mark.
Napier had 11 of his 27 points in overtime to help UConn to a 73-66 win over the Cincinnati Bearcats in front of 11,131 and a nationally televised audience on ESPN in their XL Center finale.
The Huskies improve to 18-7 (8-5 Big East) while the Bearcats fall to 19-8 (7-7).
DeAndre Daniels added 17 points, five rebounds and four blocked shots for UConn while Omar Calhoun had 10 points and a team-high six rebounds. Ryan Boatright bounced back from a bad performance last Saturday with nine points.
Sean Kilpatrick led Cincinnati with 18 points and seven rebounds. JaQuon Parker had 14 points and five rebounds while Cashmere Wright had 10 points and five assists.
For the better part of the first half, the game was tight. The Bearcats would lead by no more than four points early on while UConn's biggest lead was.
Late in the first half though, UConn used a barrage of three pointers to get out to a six point lead. They made six in the half. A Ge'Lawn Guyn three with 1:48 to go in the half cut the lead to 37-34 and that's where it stood at the half as both teams went scoreless.
The early part of the second half went the same way as both teams had a little trouble finding the basket. But then Cincinnati woke up and went on an 10-2 run to take a 53-47 lead late in the game.
UConn responded though by scoring the next six points to tie it up. The two teams exchanged baskets and then Napier had a chance to win but his shot was off the mark.
But in overtime, Napier made sure the Huskies wouldn't trail as he was nailing threes from downtown Hartford. He helped them get out to a 6-2 run to start the overtime. Cincinnati would battle back but UConn hit six-of-seven free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
Honestly, at points in the second half, I thought there was no way UConn was going to win this game. But Ollie is a great motivator and whatever he said worked. The team began to play like it did in the first half. But still, they can't afford these lulls.
You'd also be shocked they won this game even though they were outrebounded 44-28. This seems to be the norm though for the Huskies. Lose the battle on the boards but show enough heart to win the game.
These two teams will match up again in Cincinnati on March 2nd.
Next up for UConn is a trip to the Windy City on Saturday where they'll take on the DePaul Blue Demons. Tip is set for 8 p.m.
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Here are the postgame quotes from UConn head coach Kevin Ollie.
Here are UConn's postgame notes.
photo credit: michael mcandrews – hartford courant (no. 15 in gallery)