Too late to make the Monday Courant, but fast as I could bang it out, here is the post-game scene from the Paradise Jam, following UConn’s 89-83 double OT win over Quinnipiac …
ST. THOMAS, Virgin Islands – Shabazz Napier was wrapping an ice pack around his left hand, which was hurting him pretty good. “I got hit with an elbow,” he said.
UConn vs. Quinnipiac was that kind of game. Rugged, ragged, no-holds-barred, a battle of heavyweights. And Quinnipiac is, indeed, a heavyweight.
“Our kids our devastated,” Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore said. “They felt they were so close to beating a team we have so much respect for. It’s tough.”
UConn has not lost to an in-state rival since losing to UHart 48-47 in Jim Calhoun’s first year, December 1986. That is 66 in a row, and it would have been somewhat ironic if Kevin Ollie’s first loss was to an in-state team – in a game played 2,000 miles from the state.
But UConn rallied from 10 points down to tie, and won it in double OT, 89-83.
“This game meant a lot to me,” Ollie said, “because we fought. When we were 10 points down, we could have hung our heads and given in and started pointing fingers, but everybody jumped in the fox hole. We made the plays to win the game. I’m proud of the guys in our locker room.”
Napier hit 1 of 10 shots in the first half, and was 2-for-16 when he finally got going with a drive and lay-up, and then he hit a three to give UConn some hope. He scored 11 points over the last 3:36 of regulation, hitting a floater to tie the game with 4.2 left. “I’ve been working on that floater,” Napier said.
“Shabazz was brilliant offensively down the stretch,” Moore said. “Brilliant.”
Napier was scoreless in the first half against Vermont, and for the first 30 minutes or so against Wake Forest. Here, he carried out Ollie’s admonition to stay agressive.
“I hate when I do that,” Napier said, “I take a lot of shots and I miss them and I get out of the game. My coaches and teammates keep telling me to keep shooting. I trusted in what they were telling me to do tonight.”
Said Ollie: “I just want him to be Shabazz, I want him to be aggressive. We got to the line 45 times and made 39 of them, and that’s the game.”
UConn, indeed, made 39 foul shots which is believed to be a tie for the school record, set against Fairfield in 1998. Ryan Boatright was only 3 for 14 from the floor, but hit 12 of 13 from the line, Napier hit 11 of 12 and Omar Calhoun 5 of 6. “And every one of them was clutch,” Moore said.
With those three and R.J. Evans, UConn got 70 of its 89 points from the guards.
The Huskies (4-0) were outrebounded for the fourth game in a row, 44 to 35, but the rebounding was about even from about the middle of the first half, when Quinnipiac had a 17 to 5 edge. It helped when Ike Azotam fouled out in OT. Tyler Olander, who led UConn with seven rebounds, fouled out in the second OT.
Napier said there was ”bad blood” out there. One of the Quinnipiac players wouldn’t shake his hand afterward. “They wanted to make it a physical game,” Napier said, “and we’re a physical team.”
But as he walked down the hallway to the bus, Napier stopped to shake Tom Moore’s hand. “You know I love you, coach,” he said. “You know I love you.”
These are neighbors, after all. And if the two games in this tournament, an OT win over Iona and this OT loss to UConn, are any indication, Quinnipiac will be a handful for any NEC team it faces. The Bobcats play George Mason in the third-place game today.
“These tournaments aren’t forgiving,” Moore said, “you don’t get points for playing really well against a good team.”
UConn plays New Mexico for the trophy. The Lobos beat George Mason on a dramatic buzzer-beater. “New Mexico doesn’t have any quit in them, either,” Ollie said.