MEMPHIS – Shabazz Napier didn’t wait for a question, he just blurted out, “big win … big win, fellas.”
Working the hallway outside the UConn locker room was fun on Thursday night, it was the most exuberant they’ve been in a while. Napier ranked this the biggest win of the season, even bigger than Florida.
“We proved to ourselves we’re a good team,” he said.
“I think everybody on this team, we just wanted it more,” DeAndre Daniels said.
“When all five of us are on the same page, we’re tough to beat,” Lasan Kromah added.
This was a great game, the teams fairly evenly matched, but the Huskies played extremely well. They were intense from start to finish, and this time, when Kevin Ollie used the word “toughness,” it was because the Huskies had it.
There’s more work to do, with Louisville coming in Saturday, but the Huskies have momentum, they’ll have the home crowd, and they’ll have the desire to send the Cardinals off the the ACC with a taste of … well, you know how that goes.
Here is the main game story for the Friday Courant.
Here’s some Kevin Ollie:
“We did a phenomenal job adjusting. We were ball-hunters. That’s what we put on the board, we were going to go hunt the basketball. Our pick-and-pop plays were great, which is very hard to stop when it gets going. Our offensive rebounding was huge. We continued to execute and eventually got some stops.
We rebounded, and when we rebound the basketball, we’re tough to beat, the way we can get out in transition. We held them to just two fastbreak points, rebounding and transition defense were the keys to the game.
This is a very tough place to win, especially for a team coming in here the first time. They had only lost one game here, now it’s two. That was a tournament atmosphere, 18,000 fans, that’s a great crowd, an NBA arena, it got the guys juiced up a little bit.
I think this could absolutely develop as a rivalry. With all the talent they have over here – Memphis is a hotbed of talent, so they’re going to keep getting players. and I respect Josh Pastner for the job he is doing, taking over in a difficult situation and now taking it back to where it was before. Hopefully we can come back and play them here in the conference tournament.
Shabazz stayed with it, he ran our offense. He’s a great player, and he understood the tempo of the game. He knew he had to take it to the basket. They were [guarding] DeAndre on the pick-and-pops and they were leaving Shabazz wide open.
We got our first road kill in the American Conference, now we go back home and we know our fans are going to be jacked up. We can’t get lost in this moment, we’re going to celebrate but we can’t get lost in it, we’ve got to get ready for the next one and that’s Louisville. We’ll come back and have a great practice and we’ll be ready for 9 O’clock [Saturday night.]”
Speaking of that late start, UConn says the doors to Gampel will not open earlier because it’s ESPN Game day, they open at 7:30. Also, it’s the third of five 9 p.m. starts for UConn this year, and they are 0-2, losing to Stanford Dec. 18 and at Houston Dec. 31. Wonder if Ollie will try some different approach on Saturday.
Omar Calhoun came off the bench and made 3 of 4 shots, which had Ollie and Napier happy for him and singing his praises. Perhaps he is ready to bounce back now. … Lasan Kromah, though, is really becoming a more and more important players – he was 5 for 5 from the floor.
Here is the UConn notebook for the Friday Courant.
Ryan Boatright was playing this game with pain. He lost his cousin, Arin Williams, victim of a shooting back home in Aurora, Ill., and painted his initials, A.W., on his cheek. When Boatright hit two free throws to ice the game, he pointed to the sky. Jeff Jacobs caught up with Boatright as he went to see his family after the game, and wrote it for the Friday Courant. You’ll find it here on our main website.
Quick turnaround with Louisville coming up Saturday, we’ll have lots more on that game tomorrow.