Napier scores 26 in final game at Gampel
UConn’s Lasan Kromah (above) looks out on the court during senior night. Kromah joined the Huskies during the prior offseason and played his final game at Gampel Pavilion last night against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. JON KULAKOFSKY/The Daily Campus
Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey, Tyler Olander and Lasan Kromah combined for 49 points in their final game at Gampel Pavilion and helped UConn pull out a 69-63 victory over Rutgers on Senior Night on Wednesday.
"I'm definitely proud," said Napier, who made a career-high seven 3-pointers to lead all scorers with 26 points. "I knew we were going to come out and try to play our best game... It's a special feeling when you're a senior and it's your last game at home. You want to give it your all and I think that's what everyone did."
Giffey followed Napier's footsteps and knocked down four treys of his own for a career-high 16 points.
"That's really the perfect end for me playing here at Gampel," Giffey said. "I was just really carried by the emotions that we had, with my mom being here, a lot of my friends being here. I just really felt all the love from the fans and the support they gave me. That was really moving for me, so it's easy to give that back on the court."
UConn coach Kevin Ollie thanked his seniors after the game for "providing [him] with loyalty."
"They could have left," Ollie said. "They could have transferred. They could have done a lot of things, but they said, 'We are going to stay through the tough times and we're going to get back to where we belong.' They kept this program alive and I owe them a lot. I can never repay them for what they gave me - a chance to coach them. It's just been a blessing."
UConn (24-6, 12-5 American Athletic Conference) hit 12 3-pointers on 25 attempts and shot 47.2 percent from the field overall.
"We just wanted to have a 3-point contest," Napier joked. "Niels was open for a lot of shots so we were just willing to give him the ball and he was willing to knock down shots."
"They tried to cover the paint a lot because of the penetrations by [Ryan] Boatright and Shabazz," Giffey said, "so it just opened up a lot of space on the 3-point line and the corners for me and other guys to just get the shots up."
UConn had its largest lead at 64-53 with 6:07 left after sophomore forward Philip Nolan made two easy dunks in the span of 40 seconds, but Rutgers followed with a 9-3 run to cut the lead down to four with just under a minute left before UConn's DeAndre Daniels and Napier made a free throw each to seal the victory.
The Scarlet Knights shot 43.6 percent from the field, outrebounded the Huskies 37-28 and made eight 3s of their own to hang around for most of the contest.
"It was just frustrating because I felt like we were definitely up more than what we were," Napier said. "We just have to continue to get better, continue to understand that we've got to keep our composures in these situations, and I think that's what we did well and I was happy to get out with the win."
UConn continued to struggle offensively to close out games late in contests despite the victory. After making just one field goal in the final eight minutes in last week's win over Cincinnati, the Huskies saw only a Boatright jumper go down in the final six minutes Wednesday night, apart from free throws.
"Offensively, we have to figure out when it comes down the stretch," Napier said. "I cannot stress enough that defense is going to help us continue to win games. We're not going to make a lot of shots, but as long as we continue to work hard and play good defense down the stretch, it gives us a great shot to win the game."
The Huskies had five blocks in the contest and scored 18 points off 16 Rutgers turnovers.
UConn will travel to Louisville, Ky. and face the No. 11 Cardinals and wrap up the regular season on Saturday. Tipoff for that contest is schedule for 2 p.m.
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