SLAYING THE SCARLET KNIGHTS
Shabazz Napier’s 19 points help UConn defeat Rutgers
Published: Sunday, January 27, 2013
Updated: Sunday, January 27, 2013 23:01
HARTFORD – Junior guard Shabazz Napier has been dealing with a left shoulder contusion since the UConn Huskies men’s basketball team fell to Louisville two weeks ago. Judging by his performance on Sunday, the electric point guard seems to have shaken off the injury.
Led by Napier’s 19 points (6-13 FG, 3-9 3FG, 4-4 FT), UConn defeated the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 66-54 at the XL Center on Sunday afternoon. Napier also tallied six assists to go along with five rebounds and one steal.
“I wasn’t thinking too much about my shoulder throughout the game,” Napier said after the victory. “I was just going out there and trying my best to make my shots.”
The victory snapped the Huskies’ two-game Big East losing streak.
UConn (13-5 overall, 3-3 Big East) had a healthy 27-20 lead going into halftime, but things unraveled quickly once the intermission concluded. UConn’s offense turned anemic as the home team missed its first nine shots to open the second half. The Huskies didn’t make their first field goal of the half until sophomore guard Ryan Boatright slammed an uncontested dunk with 14:18 left in the game.
“They didn’t come out with the fire we wanted them to have,” head coach Kevin Ollie said of the unproductive start to the half. “We had some open looks that usually go down and they didn’t, but we still fought and that’s what I want my team to do. [We] stayed in the fight.”
The Huskies’ lackluster offense opened the door for Rutgers (12-7, 3-5) to get back in the game, and the Scarlet Knights answered, evening up the score at 32 with 11:19 remaining.
Although Rutgers was able to tie up the game, they never took the lead. On the Scarlet Knights’ next possession, junior forward Niels Giffey darted into the passing lane for one of his game-high four steals. Giffey went coast-to-coast and made a difficult layup while getting fouled by Rutgers forward Wally Judge. The German-born forward also converted the free throw, which ignited the Huskies, according to Ollie.
“It gave us a boost,” Ollie said. “We wanted to get more aggressive on defense to get everybody going, and Niels stepped up. It really energized us and propelled us to a nice victory.”
Giffey, who scored seven points (2-5 FG, 3-3 FT) and nabbed three rebounds, also thought it was a big play.
“Those are the kind of things that elevate the team’s play,” Giffey said.
Rutgers wouldn’t go away, however. After the two teams traded baskets during a frenetic sequence of play, UConn was up 48-43 after Napier made a pair of free throws with less than five minutes on the game clock. Napier missed a long three-point attempt on UConn’s next possession, but sophomore forward DeAndre Daniels was in position under the glass and tipped the ball in.
Then, UConn pressed Rutgers on the subsequent inbounds. Daniels, who finished with 13 points (6-11 FG, 1-2 3FG) and seven rebounds, picked off an errant pass in the Rutgers backcourt and cruised in for a thunderous slam that energized the XL Center and sealed the victory for the Huskies.
Daniels finished with 13 points (6-11 FG, 1-2 3FG) and seven rebounds.
“Everything wasn’t perfect out there, but it was real good,” Ollie said. “It’s good to get back in the left-hand [win] column.”
Rutgers tried fouling UConn late in an attempt to extend the game, but the Huskies made their final ten free throws ensuring that no miracle would be possible for the Scarlet Knights.
The Huskies held the Scarlet Knights to 39.3 percent shooting from the field for the game, including a stifling 27 percent from behind the arc. Ollie said that he “loves to see” UConn play defense the way they did against Rutgers.
“Now we got to be consistent with it,” Ollie said. “Now we have to go to the next game and the next game after that and start stringing them together. I thought we got [the defensive effort] from everybody.”
The Huskies next game is another Big East contest. UConn will travel to Rhode Island to take on the Providence Friars (10-10, 2-6) on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.