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UConn tops Memphis in OT
HARTFORD, Conn. -- There were countless numbers that stood out on the final statistic sheet from Saturday's game between Memphis and Connecticut.
Senior guard Shabazz Napier scored a career-high 34 points to lead No. 24 UConn to an 86-81 overtime victory over No. 20 Memphis before a sellout crowd of 16,294 at XL Center.
Napier's backcourt mate, junior guard Ryan Boatright, scored 21 points and had six assists for the Huskies. And UConn (20-5, 8-4 American Athletic Conference) won despite the fact Memphis shot 54.8 percent, outrebounded the Huskies by 10, and finished with 20 fastbreak points.
But, in the minds of UConn coach Kevin Ollie and Memphis coach Josh Pastner, the game came down an offensive rebound by reserve forward Phil Nolan, who had two points and two rebounds in 28 minutes for the Huskies.
With Memphis leading 69-66 and just over one minute remaining in regulation, Napier missed a 3-point attempt. But Nolan grabbed the rebound and UConn got the ball back in the hands of Napier, who aggressively drove into the lane, hit a layup and drew a foul on Memphis guard Geron Johnson. Napier hit the free throw that ultimately sent the game into overtime.
"I liked the rebound," Ollie said. "Phil went to go get the basketball. We got outrebounded (38-28) but that was the biggest rebound of all. Shabazz got the and-one and it sent us into overtime. It's a team effort. And that's why I'm so proud of this team."
Guard Joe Jackson led Memphis with 24 points. Johnson added 15 and guard Chris Crawford contributed 12 points for the Tigers (19-6, 8-4). The Tigers dominated the paint (42-34) and hurt the Huskies with transition baskets. But UConn went to the foul line 27 more times than Memphis and outscored the Tigers 29-6 in that statistical department.
"Sometimes calls go your way, sometimes they don't," Pastner said. "That's not the reason we lost. We lost the game because we didn't get the rebound at the end. That's what it comes down to. I always talk about what beats you is the second shot. And that's what got us today."
After taking control of the game in the second half and almost winning the game on the final shot of regulation, Napier (10 of 21 from the floor) hit his fifth 3-pointer of the game to give the Huskies a 79-74 lead with 1:45 left in overtime. Boatright had given the Huskies a 75-71 lead with his second 3-pointer of the game with 3:04 left.
"I had a rhythm," Boatright said. "I had some open looks and I just knocked them down. When you get to this level of competition in these bigger games, it comes down to execution and making big plays."
After Napier tied the game 69-69, UConn forward DeAndre Daniels blocked a shot by forward Shaq Goodwin and there was a scrum for the loose ball. The shot clock violation gave UConn the ball with 16.1 seconds left. Napier worked his dribble down to the buzzer but his 3-pointer rolled around the rim twice before popping out of the basket and sending the game to overtime.
"I call those shots toilet flush," Napier said. "Sometimes they go in and sometimes they clog up. And that's exactly what happened."
Napier, who had nine points and two rebounds in the first half, hit a 3-pointer to give UConn a 49-48 lead with 13:12 remaining. Then he took control of the game with an amazing three-minute display that included two free throws, two layups, a 3-point basket and two defensive rebounds.
"There were a couple of moments I was telling myself I had to step it up," Napier said. "To be the player I want to be, you have to step it up in these moments."
The 3-pointer gave the Huskies a 58-51 lead with 10:30 left. But Memphis refused to let the game get out of control. A 3-pointer by Crawford and a transition layup by Jackson cut the UConn advantage to 58-56.
"We were able to get back into the game through some of our transition baskets," Pastner said. "But in order to do that you have to get stops. I thought defensively, we were sound. Napier and Boatright are excellent players, so you're not going to hold them scoreless."
Napier triggered a 15-0 run by UConn in the first half, hitting a 3-pointer with 14:12 left. Memphis went almost five minutes without scoring in that stretch, but responded with an 11-0 run to take a 25-23 lead.
"I like the way our guys stayed in the middle of the ring," Ollie said. "They just keep fighting and they do it together. They kept looking through the mud and they finally found a gold nugget."
NOTES: American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco said Saturday that his schools are committed to keeping up with the rest of the NCAA in terms of providing stipends to athletes. Defraying costs to help athletes has become a hot topic during recent NCAA meetings and the bigger conferences with major football programs are seeking more autonomy. "As a conference we've already committed to provide a full cost of attendance stipend, if that's passed," said Aresco, who met with media members prior to the Memphis-UConn game. ... UConn G Omar Calhoun (concussion) missed his second consecutive game. Calhoun was injured last Sunday in UConn's win at Central Florida and his status remains day-to-day. ... G Ryan Boatright became the 48th player in UConn history to reach the career 1,000-point mark. He entered the game with 999 points and made two free throws with 13:49 left in the first half.