STORRS – Kevin Ollie said it best: “Fantastic season.”
And it was, for the Huskies. They won any number of games they were given little chance to win, starting with Michigan State, and ending with this one, with three key players in civvies.
The Huskies persevered, overachieved, and with so many games coming down to the wire, they learned how to win the close ones, even if they didn’t win all of them. If they weren’t hit with all the injuries, if the ball bounced a little differently in a few games, they might have won 25 or 26. With the team intact, UConn was beaten convincingly only by Louisville.
The coach and players were honored after the game, with a framed tribute that will hang in the locker room. Coaches always remember their first team, and Kevin Ollie will remember this one. He may never get more out of a team than he got out of this one, going 20-10, 10-8 in the Big East.
But that’s past now. What’s next? Dreams of a special team if Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels all come back. None gave any commitment after the game, which is to be expected, but they were asked.
Here is the game story for the Sunday Courant.
“A few of us have decisions to make,” Boatright said. “[Ollie] is my coach so I’ll definitely listen to him, but it’s my decision. Everybody can only give me so much advice, but it’s all on me. I’m going to discuss it with my family and my coach as to what will be the best fit.”
Napier expects to sit down with Kevin Ollie soon and talk it over. “I expect coach wants me to stay,” Napier said.
DeAndre Daniels said he “hasn’t really thought about it.” But his strong finish to the season has made him UConn’s best NBA prospect. It’s intriguing, and momentum could snowball between now and the day of decision in late April. That needs to be watched.
R.J. Evans played 42 minutes, and UConn won a Big East game. Who’s have thought that? Evans didn’t score, but he put a strong defensive effort on Bryce Cotton, holding him to nine.
Before the game, Evans spoke to the team. “It meant so much coming from him,” Napier said. “He just fell into this role, he never asked for anything, nobody gave him anything. He’s one of those guys you want around you your enture life.”
Napier came to Gampel early, and told athletic trainer James Doran, “I’m mentally ready, but physically I’m not there yet.” Napier ran on the treadmill, did some treatment and, 35 minutes before tip-off, decided he would give it ago.
“If there was any way I could play, I was going to play,” Napier said, “if I was 75 percent, I was going to play, and that’s about what I was, 75 percent early in the game and it declined from there.”
Ryan Boatright’s mom, Tanesha, came down to press row to take pictures after the game. Someone asked what she was thinking when her son took that winning shot. “I believe in God, so I knew what was going to happen,” she said.
Ed Cooley was irritated by the call on Boatrght’s and-one. He thought there should have been no foul.
How about Phil Nolan? Kevin Ollie was thrilled with the way he played. Here’s Ollie’s take.
The basketball training facility will begin construction, officially, with a ground breaking ceremony April 16. Warde Manuel says it could be ready in 14 months. Here’s the UConn notebook.
Out-rebounded 55 to 24 in Providence, UConn won the rebounding battle Saturday. Here is your box score.
Here is some player reaction:
From R.J. Evans:
“You know Coach Ollie told me earlier that he needed me to shut [Cotton] own and I just took my pride and said I am going to stop them…I am going to help us win this game, that’s what I’m going to do…I’ll just do that. And I did a good job bumping them off screens and my big men did a good job going out and giving me a second when guys were running around so I could contest the shot. We just played good collective team defense.”
“I just told them [before the game] that I was proud to be part of this team and that I loved them. We had been through so much stuff this year and we stuck through it, stuck together. And that we had one last chapter to write on our book and that was to beat PC. We really came together after that and had a good warm-up and that really helped us. The fact that we had our ace back today really helped us too.”
From DeAndre Daniels
“You know no guys on this team really had anything to do with it. Its sad and we move on but its tough for guys like R.J. who season is ended early. But we enjoyed the whole season. …Just playing much harder and just wanting to win so bad. And when guys got hurt, I just wanted to step up and keep playing and I did that.”
From Ryan Boatright:
“I put on a little hesitation [on the winning shot], I knew he would bite on it a little bit to give myself the chance to dribble. I knew once he would bite on it that I could get up in it a little in his chest because I knew he would foul me. I was lucky to get the separation I needed and got the shot off. Thank God the ref called it on him.”
“… Anything is possible. And that UConn really instills a lot of heart and pride in the program. You know nobody expected anything from us this year and we could’ve easily rolled over and died plenty of times. We have been through so much this year, a lot of adversity, especially this last week with everybody dropping like flies. … it was us coming together and getting this last win…it really means a lot.
Jeff Jacobs take on the game will be up on our main web site later Saturday.