PHILADELPHIA – This was a tough one to digest. Those 9 p.m. starts are just bad for everybody … Players, naturally, were hungry in the late afternoon and early evening and made some bad choices.
Shabazz Napier walked across the street from the team hotel and got chicken wings, Ryan Boatright got a cheese steak sandwich with peppers and the rich, spicy food didn’t sit well come game time.
“I was so stupid,” Napier said. “It was the worst decision I ever made in my life. My stomach and my chest were burning, and I was so winded. A lot of my shots were short shots and I knew that was the reason why.”
Just for reference, folks. Don’t take this too seriously. It’s part of Napier’s personality, kind of a running thing, he’s always kind of playfully complaining about an ache or pain as a lot of athletes do. It was just pretty funny, so we have a little fun with it.
As I pointed out in the main game story for the Friday Courant, conference wins on the road are supposed to be hard to come by, and they are in the AAC. UConn really had to grind this one out against a team with a bad record, like the one at Rutgers and to a lesser degree the game at UCF. “We’ve got a veteran team with a lot of leaders on the floor that know how to grind out games like this,” Boatright said. “It was an ugly win.”
Here is Kevin Ollie’s take:
Good game by us. Offensively it wasn’t our best game, but defensively we locked down and that’s where we hang our hat. When we’re not having one of our better offensive games we want to get stops. For long stretches we held them without scoring, and that’s what gave us the lead and we finally finished at the free throw line.
‘Bazz was great at getting to the free throw line. It wasn’t a particularly good shooting night for him but he does other things. He got 12 rebounds. He was 11-for-11 from the free throw line and he kind of sealed the game for us.
We’ve just got to keep playing defense. We’ve got to shoot a little bit better but we hang our hat on defense and we got those defense stops. We held a team to 33.6 percent – that’s damn good defense and that’s how we’re going to win games going forward.
[Dalton] Pepper was 4 for 15, [Quenton] DeCosey 5 for 15, holding those two guys like we did, especially in a building where they feel comfortable – in the XL Center, they’d never played there before but this is their home gym. To get out on their shooters and run them off the three-point line and make life difficult for them, it was a good job, and not just one o n one defense, but overall defense.
Guys helping. … I thought Amida [Brimah] did a good job, giving us an inside presence, giving us a balance and I hope SMU is thinking about that.
Transition defense was a big emphasis of mine, especially watching that tape against Memphis. Just run with some sense of urgency, we came back and we’re learning.
SMU, they want to get out and they want to run sometimes, but other times they want to play half court. So you have to play your half court defense, you can’t give them easy baskets.
Our guards are attacking, getting their shots. We got outrebounded again tonight but we got the crucial rebounds. ‘Bazz got 12 rebounds, which was great for us and a great neutralizer is the free throw line. We outscored a team again, by 10, they made 12 we made 22 and that’s what’s been saving us a lot this season.
We missed some wide open shots that we usually hit tonight, but we didn’t hang our head and we played defense. I commend the guys for that because sometimes the game is not going to be dictated on the offensive end, it’s going to be dictated on the defensive end. You can always play that, and they’re starting to realize that.
.. [Ryan Boatright’s] pull up game is better, I still question some of his shot selection when they close out. Just pump fake, one dribble. He can do that. He’s doing a good job for us, he’s allowing me to coach him. He’s going to be a great point guard for us.
… [Regarding Temple’s lack of depth] I think they’re the only team in America that’s got four teams averaging over 14 points, so the guys they’re playing are pretty good and what they’re dangerous in is outscoring you. Our team to hold them down like we did I just want to tip my cap to our defense and if we wear them down, we wear them down. We’ve got to stop them and I think we did that tonight.
… [Philadelphia] is great. I got great respect for Fran [Dunphy] over there. This city has done a lot for me. Larry Brown has done a lot for me, the Sixers organization did a lot for me. I always like to get back, talk to some of my old fans and be around them. I love this city, they always cheered me on. I was a guy that didn’t get a lot of minutes, but when I got in there they always had an ovation for me and I always appreciated that.”
The national champs of 1998-99 will be honored Sunday, here is more on that, and the UConn notebook for the Friday paper.
Omar Calhoun still looks so lost out there. He played 10 minutes, was 0-for-1. Kentan Facey played two. So the Huskies basically played seven guys, and got 10 points off the bench.
Temple played six guys, no one else over six minutes, and got eight bench points.
Programming note: I’ll be on ESPN radio in Hartford and New Haven with Paul Nanos bright and early Friday, about 7:30 a.m.