Men's Basketball: Napier, Boatright take over as No. 24 UConn tops No. 20 Memphis
UConn senior point guard Shabazz Napier goes up for a contested layup against Memphis at the XL Center Saturday afternoon. Napier scored 34 points and moved to eighth on the all-time scoring list in an 86-81 overtime win over the Tigers. JON KULAKOFSKY/The Daily Campus
HARTFORD - On the sixth day of ESPN's Rivalry Week, the marquee rivalry in the American Athletic Conference was born.
Shabazz Napier scored a career-high 34 points and Ryan Boatright added 21, becoming the 48th UConn player to 1,000 career points, as the No. 24 Huskies held on to beat No. 20 Memphis 86-81 in overtime Saturday afternoon at the XL Center.
"It's a high-level basketball game, two high-level teams, and I think it will be fun for the future to keep having high-level games like this," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said.
With his career game, Napier moved into eighth on UConn's all-time scoring list with 1,688 points, passing Cliff Robinson (1,664) and Wes Bialosuknia (1,673). Next on the list is Napier's former teammate Kemba Walker (1,783), whose mother watched Saturday's game alongside Napier's mother, Carmen Velasquez.
Passing someone on UConn's scoring chart has become almost a daily routine for Napier, as has picking the opportune moment to take over.
UConn (20-5, 8-4 American) led 36-35 after 20 minutes, but Memphis (19-6, 8-4 American) came out and quickly jumped on top in the second half.
Trailing by two points with 13:27 to play, Napier stepped up and nailed a 3-pointer to put the Huskies back in front. That began a stretch of five minutes during which the captain scored 10 of UConn's 12 points.
"He's a great player," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "He's an All-American player. I know I might be biased, but he's the best guard in America, to me, hands down."
Napier missed a 3-pointer that would have tied the game with 1:02 remaining, but sophomore center Phil Nolan grabbed the offensive rebound and got the ball back to the senior, who drove to the lane, made the bucket and was fouled on the way up by Geron Johnson.
"We got outrebounded, but that was the biggest rebound of all," Ollie said.
After forcing a shot clock violation on the Tigers' ensuing possession, Napier and the Huskies got the ball back with 16.8 seconds remaining with a chance to win the game. Napier ran down the clock and got an open look, but his 3-pointer popped out of the basket after it looked like he had won yet another game at the buzzer.
"I thought it was going to go in," Napier said. "I call those shots toilet flush. Sometimes they go in. Sometimes they clog up. That's exactly what happened."
In the overtime session, it was Boatright's turn to take over.
Boatright's layup 1:13 into the extra session put the Huskies up for good, and his 3-pointer 32 seconds later was the dagger. The junior scored eight of his 21 points in overtime, rounding out a performance that also included six assists and two steals.
"I had a rhythm," Boatright said. "I had some open looks and I just knocked them down. Whenever I'm in that situation, I try to make the best play possible whether it's shooting or passing the ball. Today it was shooting the ball."
UConn is the first team to sweep Memphis in conference play since the 2000-01 season, when the Tigers lost twice to Southern Mississippi in Conference-USA. Having now won nine of their last 11 games, the Huskies are tied with the Tigers for fourth in the American with six regular season games remaining, starting with a trip to Temple on Feb. 20.
The schedule is not easy for UConn down the stretch. No. 23 SMU, No. 10 Cincinnati and Rutgers will travel to Connecticut while the Huskies must play at Temple, USF and No. 13 Louisville. But in its first season, few games have proven easy for anyone in the American.
"There's no question we should have five (teams) in (the NCAA Tournament)," Pastner said. "You look at our top five, I think our top five is the best of any out there in the country. I really believe that. But I mean, from top to bottom is very good...(the bottom five teams in the standings are) good teams. They're better than their records."
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