BUFFALO, N.Y. – Snowing like a son-of-a-gun as we pull out of town on the Amtrak early Sunday morning.
It’s a good time to be getting out of Buffalo.
It’s especially a good time if you’re the Huskies, who came, saw, survived and advanced to New York.
“We call The Garden our second home,” Ryan Boatright said, “because when we go there, we take care of business.”
The business will be difficult, no matter who UConn finds in the Sweet 16, but there will be plenty of time to talk about that. Right now, they can bask in the glow of a job well done.
The 77-65 win over Villanova was a truly impressive performance in every way. UConn’s defense kept the Wildcats tossing up three pointers, and the offense got it done. Shabazz Napier, despite the foul trouble, was 9-for-13 and scored 25 points in 25 minutes. “Napier was just awesome,” Jay Wright said.
The 16-1 run while Napier was on the bench was as impressive as anything the Huskies have done all year, and the rebounding and ball-hawking were outstanding, after a tentative first few minutes.
Villanova, on the other side, really turned out to be a paper tiger. If the old Big East were intact they would not have had anywhere near the 29-4 record they did, or the seed they got. UConn outplayed them, outscored them 68-46 over the last 30 minutes or so.
Due to the lateness of the game, your newspaper has our first version of the game story, with no quotes. The final version went online about 2 a.m. – here it is.
Now, on to Kevin Ollie at the podium.
“Great game by our guys. They showed some resiliency. They showed toughness, and they just played with a will. When Shabazz went out, guys stepped up, and that’s what a team is all about. Then in the second half, he scored 21 points for us. But everybody was strong. Everybody rebounded the basketball, and we just played together. It was a gutty win. We’re going to the Garden. We just love to plant seeds. We’re going to keep planting seeds there. We’re going to keep playing together and keep caring for each other.”
“I’ve seen a lot. I’ve seen us being great for three. When we called great for three, it’s not enough to go two slots. We have to go the third slot. They was penetrating and going out and getting easy threes. So we wanted to run them off the three?point line.
“I think when Shabazz got his foul, his second foul, we started really turning up the defense another notch with him on the bench. It’s nothing against Shabazz, it was just we got to take this moment. The game is right now.
I think once they took Shabazz out on this last play and he hit three and was up nine, we went on a 16?1 run. It was just a great run by us with our leader on the bench. But that just shows you what kind of team we’re made out of.
“Everybody talks about we’re not deep, we’re not this, we’re not that, but we’ve got heart. Every guy that comes in on the court, they stay positive, and they stay productive.
I’m going to keep saying the same thing. That’s what our guys do. That’s how we’re built. We’re UConn made. We’re UConn made through and through. And every day we come out there and play with that toughness and play with that heart.”
“[Napier’s] just tough?minded. A lot of things he’s been through in life made him that way. His mother Carmen is one of the toughest ladies around, and he’ll be the first to say that, how he was raised and what she had to do to keep their home together, and I think he gets that toughness from her.
“He goes out there and plays. I told you on many occasions he does whatever we need to win. If that’s scoring a scoop shot, that’s being my unpaid coach for 12 minutes, you know, that’s what he does.”
“We’ve been telling Terrence [Samuel] and all of our guys, you’ve got to recover quickly. For me, I’ve got to be positive over there because they’re looking at me, and I have to have the right body language when he makes a mistake. That’s what I try to do with Terrence. He’s going to be a great player for us. He’s maturing right now. Like I told him, once he stepped on the free?throw line the last game, he’s not no freshman no more. You’re all sophomores. This is the big stage, and they’re stepping up and playing wonderful basketball.”
“Things you don’t see. I keep telling you. They work hard in practice. Kentan [Facey's] working hard. You don’t see it, but he’s working hard. All our guys have that passion and that want to get better. We tell our guys, every time you step on the court, Try to do something better.
Terrence is maturing, and he’s a great competitor, but he’s also a great teammate. He’s going to be a great basketball player for us and a great student?athlete for the University of Connecticut.”
“I just explain, we plant seeds. We plant seeds every day in practice. Sometimes you’re not going to see them growing the first day or first two days, but sooner or later, they’re going to grow. That’s what they do each and every day.”
“Lasan [Kromah] has been working hard. He does different things for us to win. You know, against Saint Joe’s, he played tremendous defense on Galloway that last possession. We just want our guys to be solid, just continue to play their role, be solid, and just contribute in so many different ways.”
“You don’t have to be a great player all the time, but you can always be a great teammate. That’s what we try to strive for all our guys to be great teammates on and off the basketball court.”
“[When Shabazz went out], I just believed in my team. I’m hurting for him because I don’t want him coming out of the game. But like they just said, we’ve been hurting a lot, but we stayed here. We’re hurting, but we’re still here. That’s our motto. We’re going to be here. We’re going to stand up. We’re going to say I’m present.
If Shabazz is on the bench, we’ve got to keep going forward for him, and we got to uphold each other. I think that’s what we did. Then Shabazz got back in. I knew he’s a tough player. He’s going to get back in there, and that’s what he did, and he led us to victory. “
“He was just unbelievable that second half. You know, 21 points, crucial threes, dagger threes. You know, it looked like he was 30 feet out and just making them with all the utmost confidence in the world. Great game by him.
But it was a great thing, when he’s on the bench, our other players can step up and provide a great spark for us.”
“I just want to keep riding Uncle Mo. That’s the momentum. Wherever it takes us, it’s going to take us.
We got to stay together as a team. We can’t get drunk off success. We got to make sure we understand we go back to work on Monday. Give the kids the day off and then go back to work. We see who we’re playing, and we’ve got to prepare. That’s what we need to do, and whatever happens is going to happen.
We’re going to write our own story. We’re not going to let anybody write it for us. We’re going to continue to learn and grow and appreciate this journey that we’re on.”
Some player quotes, from the podium and the locker room, which was fun to work at 1 a.m..
From Shabazz Napier
On his injury: I was trying to get open for the ball, and I think it was Hilliard was playing me aggressively. I just tried to make a move, and he kind of kicked me or kneed me in my shin area. The pain was just excruciating. I couldn’t really put pressure on it.