Men's Basketball: Giffey scores 24 as UConn advances to the semifinals
After being held to a mere point against Louisville, Niels Giffey scored 24 points to propel UConn into the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference. JESS CONDON/The Daily Campus
MEMPHIS - With Memphis doubling Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright all night, someone was bound to be open for UConn.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, it was Niels Giffey.
In front of an anti-UConn crowd, the senior from Germany scored a career-high 24 points banking 9 of 11 shots in the game. He hit six of his eight 3-pointers to lead the No. 4 seed Huskies to a 72-53 win over Memphis, the No. 5 seed, in the American Athletic Conference Quarterfinals at the FedExForum.
"Niels was 6-for-8 today (from three)," Napier said, "and he's been the greatest shooter we've had this whole year. The way (Memphis played) defense, they double a lot, and the shooter's open. We're not afraid to pass the ball at all. So Niels got the shots and knocked them down and just kept it moving."
Giffey, who also had nine rebounds in his eighth start of the season, reached 20 points for the first time in his career Thursday night. His previous high was 16 on March 5, his last start against Rutgers on Senior Night.
"I wanted to get Niels out there so we could spread the floor and get more space for my guards," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said on his decision to start Giffey. "I know Louisville really tried to wear Shabazz and Ryan Boatright down...Niels made me look like I was a good coach."
The Huskies (25-7, 12-6 American) entered the game on the back of a demoralizing 81-48 loss at Louisville on Saturday afternoon. The 33-point loss was UConn's worst defeat since the 1991-92 season.
"We just seen it as a sign to understand, 'Alright, we just hit a big bump. Now we just figure out what we're going to do next,'" Napier said. "Either we could sob about it, cry about it, or we could sit there and work on our weaknesses and get better from it, and I think we just got better from it."
Eleven minutes into the game, Napier hit a foul shot for his sixth point of the game, moving him past Ben Gordon for sixth place on the all-time scoring list at UConn. Napier, the AAC Player of the Year, finished the game with 11 points, bringing his career total to 1,801, nine points shy of Corny Thompson.
As a whole, UConn's offense, which has been on the decline since the middle of February, found its spark again. The Huskies' field goal percentage was down to 44.6 entering the conference tournament, but the Huskies made 27 of 51 shots (52.9 percent) on the night, the best shooting night UConn has had since Jan. 21 against Temple. Four Huskies scored in double figures; joining Napier and Giffey were DeAndre Daniels with 13 and Boatright with 11.
"I think it's the way Memphis plays defense," Napier said. "They definitely double a lot of pick and rolls, which keeps guys like Niels open, guys like DeAndre open, Lasan (Kromah) open. We've got some great shooters on our squad. If you give them time to shoot the ball, you see what happens."
For Giffey, his 24 points on Thursday doubled his total against Memphis from the regular season. He had four points in the Huskies' first trip to FedExForum, a win on Jan. 16, and then eight in the overtime game at the XL Center. However, Giffey's low scoring totals were moot points in the first two games, as UConn shot 47.9 percent against the Tigers in the regular season.
"I was definitely feeling it in the first half," Giffey said. "Just the way Ryan and Shabazz, it was the perfect setup for me because (Memphis) double-teamed them which gave me the chance to be wide open."
Giffey was feeling it even more in the second half. When he got the ball, the Memphis crowd would groan, as the oft-open German would extend UConn's lead even more, first to 18 with 15:57 to play and then 23 with 11:09 left.
"It's kind of funny to me," Giffey said. "Obviously, I know my game better than a lot of fans. I'm going to read the situation. I'm not going to jack up shots. I'm going to stay in my game. I'm going to stay in the flow of the game. If the shot is wide open, I'm obviously going to take it, but if the game is at a certain point where it doesn't make sense for me to take any kind of shot - maybe there's 30 seconds left on the shot clock and I just got the ball - I'm going to make the smarter decision."
Standing in the way of UConn and a spot in the first ever AAC Championship Game is Cincinnati, the No. 1 seed. The Bearcats (27-5, 15-3) survived by the skin of their teeth against UCF, the No. 9 seed in the prelude to UConn's game, beating the Knights 61-58 to advance.
Friday's game, which is scheduled for 9 p.m. on ESPN2, will pit Napier against Sean Kilpatrick, who Napier beat for the conference's Player of the Year award, much to the disagreement of Kilpatrick and his coach, Mick Cronin, the AAC Coach of the Year.
UConn and Cincinnati split two low-scoring games this season, the last being a 51-45 win for the Huskies on March 1 at the XL Center. Cincinnati's defense, led by AAC Defensive Player of the Year Justin Jackson, in scoring defense at 58.4 points per game.
On the flip side, the Bearcats were ninth in scoring offense at 69.4 points per game. Meanwhile, the Huskies are fourth defensively at 63.4 points per game and fourth offensively at 72.6 points.
"It's definitely going to be a war," Napier said. "Cincinnati's definitely a great defensive team. They've got a great coach, great players. We just have to fight. That's the biggest thing."
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