Shabazz Napier had 17 points and 10 assists and Deandre Daniels chipped in with 23 points and 11 boards as UConn went into the FedEx Forum and knocked off the No. 17 Memphis Tigers, 83-73.
It was an enormous win for the Huskies, who were coming off of losses to Stanford, SMU and Houston in the last month. There were doubts about whether or not this was a team that could compete with the other top dogs in the American, but those were put to rest on Thursday night.
What’s more is that this is a solid resume win for the Huskies, who weren’t necessarily in danger of missing out on an at-large bid just yet. That home win over Florida and the neutral court win over Indiana are only going to look better and better as the year goes on. Having said that, their recent losses were certainly concerning enough to make some question whether or not the Huskies are actually as good as their resume appears.
And frankly, there are nights where they aren’t all that good.
When it comes down to it, there are two things that the Huskies are going to need to do to win:
- Their bigs have to show up and compete in the paint, and they did that on Thursday. Daniels was terrific and while Amida Brimah didn’t have his best game, he played well enough — as did Tyler Olander and Phil Nolan — that the Huskies basically controlled the interior for the first 32 minutes of the game. UConn’s front court is never going to be a strength, but they have to play well enough that they are not a liability.
- UConn needs scoring from someone other than Napier. It doesn’t matter who it is. Daniels had 23 on Thursday while Lasan Kromah chipped in with 11. Brimah had 20 in a win over Central Florida. Ryan Boatright can pop off for 20 on any given night. Niels Giffey is capable of hitting three or four threes. Napier is as good of a closer as their is in college basketball, but he can lead and he can facilitate. He wants to get his teammates involved. They have to reward his efforts.
If that happens, Napier is good enough that he can lead the Huskies to wins over just about anyone. On Thursday, you saw proof of that.
As an aside, the American is shaping up to be one of the weirdest conference races in the country. UConn got swept on their trip to Texas but won at Memphis, which Cincinnati did as well. Memphis, in turn, went into Louisville and knocked off a Cardinal team that has looked like they’ve hit their stride in the last couple of weeks. When it comes to conference races, weird almost always equates to fun. So buckle up.