NEW YORK – Okay, quite a night for the Huskies. If you were not a believer in this group, there is more evidence now to support the notion that this could be a special season.
UConn 59, Indiana 58. Brand names. Heavyweights at The Garden, and UConn, which won an NIT and seven Big East tournaments in this arena, showed they still belong among the nation’s elite programs, regardless of the fortunes of conference realignment.
It’s past midnight here at The Garden, lots of stuff for you to chew on …
Others have had their nights. This was all Shabazz Napier. “He’s just too good,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said, “he’s got one of those un-teachable abilities to make big shots at crucial times.”
Shabazz, the 2K Classic’s MVP, scored 27, putting UConn ahead again and again down the stretch. The comparisons to Kemba Walker, by New York reporters who covered the Big East Tournament in 2011, were inevitable.
“That’s my big brother,” Napier said, “I try to emulate everything he does in a sense, and put my type of talent and skills on it. I’m not trying to be him, those are some hard shoes to fill. I am just trying to be Shabazz, and if I can continue to play the way I have, minus free throws and turnovers, I think I should be good.”
Napier, always his own toughest critic, was bristling over the seven turnovers and four misses from the line in seven shots. Also the charge against him was a little strange, the way the game had been called.
“Yogi [Ferrell] fell down,” Napier said, “and with the new hand-check rules, I thought that was supposed to be a foul on him.”
The call went against Napier and UConn, but he, and the Huskies, battled through it.
It was a good night to be a Huskies fan, although it seemed like there were more red-clad Hoosier fans at The Garden. “I only see blue and white,” Napier said.
Yogi Ferrell, sophomore, on Napier: “He’s going to shoot those tough shots and he’s going to knock them down. He’s more experienced. It was a fun experience going against him and I learned a few things.”
Have to say, I never saw Kevin Ollie more fired up than he was Friday night. He was animated, he really got on Lasan Kromah after one Indiana possession. I mean, wow. He wanted this one badly. When it was over, I happened to be following him off the court, down the small tunnel, with fans reaching down and patting him on the back. He shook a few hands. Back in the hallway, he gave Jim and Pat Calhoun a hug. … Yeah, good night to be a UConn fan. Here is the game story for the Saturday Courant.
Got to save something for tomorrow, and it will probably be Tyler Olander. In UConn’s frontcourt “committee” he was the chairman this time. With foul trouble limiting Amida Brimah to nine minutes and Phil Nolan to six, Olander played 24 minutes and offered some quality. Four points, four rebounds and a steal at a critical spot.
Take away Napier’s 10-for-14, and his teammates were `11 for 39 from the floor. Take away his 4 for 6 on threes, and the rest of the team was 2 for 13. Here is your box score. … Ollie used nine players, seven more 10 minutes or more; Terrence Samuel, Kentan Facey and Leon Tolksdorf did not get in
“Sometimes my teammates let me know, not verbally but in the way they carry themselves, that I have to try to score and be more aggressive,” he said.
Omar Calhoun has problems shooting at The Garden. He was 1-for-7, 0-for-5 from three-point range Friday night. In four games against NC State, St. John’s, BC and Indiana, he’s 12-for-41 from the Garden floor.
Here are some great pics of the night from our Brad Horrigan.
UConn has now won 20 in-season tournaments, including 13 Connecticut Mutual Classics, two Paradise Jams, two Maui Invitationals, and from the 1950s and ECAC Holiday Festival at The Garden and an Orange Bowl Classic. Here is the UConn notebook for the Saturday Courant.
Some of Kevin Ollie’s postgame take
“The last key we wrote in the board was that it wasn’t going to be about skill, it was going to be about heart. This game came down to making stops, us playing defense and getting 50-50 balls. They were averaging almost 20 offensive rebounds and we wanted to cut that in half, which we almost did. We knew they were getting to the free throw line 40 times a game and that was one of the areas we struggled in, keeping teams off the free throw line. I think we accomplished those two keys and the third was getting back in transition. Three of their games they scored over 100 points and we knew it was going to be prime to get back in transition and make them play against our set defense. It came down to execution and it came down to heart. We are not the biggest team, but I will put our heart against anybody.
“They don’t have to prove anything else to me anymore. This is a great team, not just from a win-loss perspective but I am talking about togetherness. That is what I put my hat on. Don’t judge me as a coach with winning and losing, judge me by how my players compete and not only compete, but complete each other. Tonight, they completed each other.
Shabazz is just a fighter, just a warrior and he never gets down on himself. I told him he has a special gift, and for him to get to the next level he has to start giving away that gift. He can’t hold onto it and he showed everybody that if he can give away his gift, his leadership – it is not just about the buckets, it’s about the leadership he is providing right now and he didn’t do that earlier in his career. Now he is doing it and it is just a great thing. God bless him today, to be on this stage and play the way he played. He had seven turnovers and he doesn’t like that number, but all the big plays he made. Every big shot, he made.
Maryland, BC and Indiana down. The next big power conference challenge is Florida, which is at Gampel on Dec. 2. If UConn wins that, could the Huskies stay undefeated into the AAC schedule?