Men's basketball takes down Pitt
Members of the UConn Poultry Club show off their chickens at the Cornucopia Fest. Brett Mickelson
Shabazz Napier dribbled straight toward coach Jim Calhoun as the clock expired on an emotional win, and a rollercoaster ride of a regular season for the UConn men's basketball team.
"I needed the hug, I missed the guy so much," Napier said on his coach's return from an eight-game absence.
The Huskies beat Pittsburgh 74-65 on Senior Day at Gampel Pavilion in front of 10,167. The win improved UConn to 18-12 with an 8-10 Big East record. The loss dropped the Panthers to 16-15 and 5-13 in conference play. Napier had 23 points and six assists while Jeremy Lamb and Roscoe Smith each scored 14 points to pace the Huskies.
"We played great in the first half," Blaney said. Calhoun was unavailable to the media due to exhaustion. "We really had a terrific lead and then took a punch. This time we took the punch and then punched back. I thought we out-toughed them at the end."
UConn led 36-22 at halftime. But one game after giving up a 14-point lead at Providence, the Huskies could not keep a lead in front of the home crowd. Pittsburgh took its first lead of the game with 2:51 left on a Tray Woodall 3-pointer. Andre Drummond tied the game at 61 on a free throw and after a turnover by J.R. Moore, Lamb found Smith along the baseline for a lay up to take back the lead with 2:06 left.
On the ensuing possession, Smith took a charge on Moore, a rarity for UConn teams that block more shots than take charges.
"One of the biggest plays of the game was the charge he took," Blaney said. "That's the first charge we've taken in six months, I think."
While Smith was lying on the floor Napier came over to celebrate.
"I just took advantage of the opportunity," Smith said.
The Huskies took back control of the game after Napier hit a 3-pointer to push the lead to 66-61 with 1:02 remaining.
"Usually we don't stay together, but today we did," Lamb said. "We definitely stayed together today and played hard."
Napier said after losing to Marquette in Hartford that UConn responded to punches with pillows, but nobody thought that on Saturday.
"This time we took the punch and punched back," Blaney said.
Napier stretched the lead to 70-62 after a steal and a transition lay up with 36 seconds left. After more free throws, UConn was able to celebrate with the home crowd in the final regular season game.
"This was the last game of the season in Gampel, great crowd out there, and to see Coach back, and just be able to get a win, it's a real good feeling," Lamb said.
The Huskies will play DePaul on Tuesday at noon at Madison Square Garden in the first round of the Big East tournament. UConn will head to New York after a much-needed win.
"It was a lot of smiles, a lot of heads held up high," Smith said of the locker room after the game.
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