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.
Our athletic trainer James Doran, one of the best in the country, he was just applying pressure on it to make sure I was fine. Put some good Biofreeze on it.
He told me mentally stay strong. Physically, everything felt like it was in the right place. I think it was just a deep bruise. Like I said, James Doran, our athletic trainer, put that Biofreeze on, and I was ready to go.”
… It was a big moment when I got my second foul, but we didn’t skip a beat. That just shows the maturity of this team and how much they continuously are getting better.
I get recognized for a lot of things, but everyone knows that there’s no ‘I’ in team, and they proved it today. I got in foul trouble. Boatright, being the captain that he is, stepped up. Niels stepped up. Terrence got in the game and stepped up. I could go down the list. Everybody stepped up, and that’s what they do.
I’ve been watching them this entire season in practice, in games, and spurts in games where I know my teammates are ready. It showed today collectively, and I’m definitely so happy I’m part of this team.
Like I always said, I’m nothing without these guys, and today was a big show for that.”
“It’s a big thing, when you continue to grow as a team and to see your teammate play to the level that you always knew they could play at. For people to see that, it’s a beautiful thing to watch.”
“Coach [Jim] Calhoun keeps telling me I’m shooting flat, I’m not shooting high enough. I just wanted to be aggressive. You miss a ton of shots, but if they feel good, you can’t get upset about that.”
“Biggest thing I was thinking was back to my freshman year when I was sitting on the bench, I wasn’t starting, I was sitting on the bench watching how everything was going. Then I snapped back to reality, how well my team weas playing, how they were showing how good they are and it was just a beautiful feeling. I get recognized for a lot, but you guys don’t realize how much they mean to this team, how much they mean to myself.”
From Ryan Boatright
“[When Shabazz came out] I just told the guys that we had to come together and we had to take care of the ball and play good defense to get to the second half so we could get Shabazz back.
The guys that came in and played in that first half, they stepped up real tremendously. I was just trying to make plays for myself and for others and just take care of the ball. I knew that, if we could take care of the ball and we could play defense going into the first half either winning or with the game close, once we got Shabazz back, he’d have a good chance of winning the game.
It was a dogfight. We rebounded the ball the best we did all year, that’s why we won the game. We rebounded the ball excellent. Coach challenge me before the game, he said they shoot a lot of threes there’s going to be a lot of long rebounds. The guards had to help rebound. He challenged me to get five rebounds in order to win the game. I went out there and got seven.
I was missing bunnies, my shot wasn’t falling, but I was trying to do other things to keep my teammates motivated and impact the game,
They’re a great defensive team. You can’t try to beat them one on one. We were just penetrating the lane and kicking and dishing.
From Niels Giffey
“It’s a great chance just for us to have the type of home game. We have a couple of guys from New York, and that’s one of the reasons why Terrence played so well. He was really trying to go home for a little bit.
Yeah, we’re just excited to have our home crowd right around the corner, especially the older guys with so many great memories in the Garden. Like Ryan said, we’re just trying to take care of business in the Garden.”
From Terrence Samuel
“After Shabazz hit that three from beyond, from NBA range, my face was just like, ‘Wow, Oh, my God, he’s a beast.’ He’s NBA ready, he is. I’m just trying to learn from him and Boat and get better every day in practice. They push me every day, they go at me, they don’t give me anything easy and it’s paying off.”
“It should be a great feeling playing in front of my friends and family, I get to see my mother, especially. My brothers, my high school coaches. We take care of business in the Garden, so we just try to keep that tradition going.”
“It’s the tournament, and if I’m going to come up big I’d rather it be now. Be a game changer when I come intro the game. Bring intensity on the offensive and defensive end.”
“Shabazz has lot of confidence in me. He told me, go in there and do what you do, Push the ball, get l layups and and create for others. As soon as I came in I created a three for DeAndre and we went from there. We got a lot of stops.”
“Taking care of business in the Garden” seemed to be the post-game theme. As we know, some of the greatest triumphs in the program’s history were there, and it’s going to be a big UConn crowd next week. Iowa State will be tough, though the Cyclones have lost Georges Niang. The Huskies so well remember their loss to them in 2012, though, they will have an even bigger chip on the shoulder. That would be an emotional game. … If it’s North Carolina, it may not be a vintage UNC team, but it won’t be easy. UConn vs. North Carolina at the Garden? Has epic written all over it.
But now that UConn is in the Sweet 16, the Huskies can just play loose and let it fly. It’s official now: this is a great season.
The New York media surely will adopt the Huskies, with Manhattan and Syracuse out. There will be a throng at UConn practice this week. And, by the way, a March run, a trip to the Garden and all of that will be great for recruiting. Winning in March = the best recruiting tool there is. It was missing last year.
Lasan Kromah had four steals. Villanova had 16 turnovers, hoisted 31 threes, making 11. Great defense by the Huskies almost start to finish. Only real problems were the two intentional foul calls, against Phil Nolan and Samuel in the first half, that led to nine ‘Nova points, or else it might’ve been a blowout. … Here is your box score.
Three from the American Athletic Conference still alive – Louisville, UConn and Memphis, which plays Virginia, No. 1 in the East, Sunday.
We’ll have, of course, lots more on courant.com later today, and in the Monday Courant, and all week.