MEMPHIS – It’s on. Shabazz Napier and UConn , Sean Kilpatrick and Cincinnati in the rubber match.
They’ve split two grueling defensive games, and they’ll go at it Friday night in the AAC semifinals … With a little intrigue.
As Shabazz Napier was receiving the AAC player of the year award on Wednesday, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin and Kilpatrick both were clear in expressing their sentiment that Kilpatrick, who led the league in scoring for the regular-season co-champs, should have gotten the award. Kilpatrick vowed to make things “20 times tougher” on opponents in this tournament.
He scored 21 points Friday as the Bearcats struggled to get past No. 9 Cincinnati 61-58, a typical Cincinnati game. Cincy coach Mick Cronin casually referred to Kilpatrick as “the player of the year in the conference.”
After UConn’s impressive 72-53 win over the host Memphis Tigers, Napier was asked if he looked forward to facing Kilpatrick.
“… I don’t really care about him,” Napier said. “… He cares so much about the MVP. I don’t care about that, I mean, if he wants it, he can have it. I’m not into I’m not into individual accolades. I’m not looking to play Cincinnati just to play Kilpatrick, I’m here for my team.”
So, there you go. Going to be interesting.
Now, about this game …
Great win for UConn. You don’t need me to tell you that. Those of you, and there are many, who have called for Niels Giffey to get more shots can say “we told you so.”
Giffey was left open, and he caught and shot with authority. He made 9 of 11, and that was your ballgame right there. He demolished his previous career highs with 24 points and nine rebounds.
Napier, need we say, was a little more pointed. “It’s the way they play defense. They double Boatright and myself on the pick and rolls and leave shooters open. It’s kind of astonishing, Niels is one of the best shooters in the country. We’ll take those all night. Those are like warm-up shots for him.”
Ollie’s goals were 15 assists, which UConn got, and better transition defense. Memphis blew past the Huskies for 20 fastbreak points in Hartford, but had only eight in this game. UConn outrebounded Memphis 36-35, but the Huskies dominated in the paint, 30-18.
Even Amida Brimah had three assists.
Memphis just played terrible, offensively and defensively.
“The game was played at a high speed and I thought our guys came in with the right mind?set and that mind?set is togetherness. We shared the basketball. We put on the board that we wanted to get 15 plus assists and we hit 15. Our defense was phenomenal from the tap, and we didn’t give them anything easy and the biggest thing we had on the board was transition defense and we held them to 8 transition points and when they played in the LX Center, our last game against them, they got 20. So I thought limiting them to 18 points in the paint, and then also eight transition points in the paint allowed us to get out on the break and we shared with the basketball and Niels phenomenal, but everybody down the list came in and contributed, you know Shabazz with his leadership also and Ryan with his floor game had 6 assists and it was a phenomenal game and we have to fuel back up and get ready for Cincinnati because you know what type of game that’s going to be, it’s going to be a war. We gotta have that heart, we gotta have that hustle. The same thing we had tonight to beat a great team like Cincinnati.
I just wanted to do something different. Those guys were still going to play, Lasan [Kromah] came here and gave us a great effort and Amida [Brimah] came in and gave us great effort, but I wanted to change it up and get Niels out there so he could spread the floor and get more space for my guards. I know Louisville, they tried to wear Shabazz and Ryan Boatright down and we wanted to give them more space and Niels made me look like I was a good coach so thank you, Niels.”
From Josh Pastner:
“Got to give UConn credit and Coach Ollie and their program. They played great, they’ve got a great team, great program and they deserved to win. Secondly, we stunk, no other way to look at it. We played poorly. Obviously when we lose a game all responsibility has to go to the head coach so I will take full responsibility.
I’ve said that before, it’s going to be hard for us to win when our four senior guards combine for, you know, 10 for 38. We’re not going to win that way.
With only 2 or 3 assists out of those four guards, it’s just not going to happen. Again, anytime we lose a game it’s got to fall on the head coach, when we win a game the players got the job done. It was a bad performance and we gotta now be ready to go for next week, we will be in the NCAA Tournament and we have to correct a couple of things. I did not see this one coming. We had a great week of practice. Guys were ready to play. They were fired up.
I just did not see this coming. I felt the first half, the majority of the game, but especially the first half we played not to lose instead of playing to win. When you play not to lose against a really good team you end up losing.”
You’ll find lots more content, including Rich Messina’s pics and Jeff Jacobs take, here.