No. 20 Memphis did not play particularly well in its first meeting with No. 24 UConn, with DeAndre Daniels scoring 31 points and the Huskies grabbing 52% of its missed shots in their 83-73 win. With that game as a reference point, two of the objectives for Memphis were clear entering the rematch with both involving their big men: limit Daniels’ looks, especially in pick-and-pop situations, and do a much better job on the boards.
The Tigers did both on Saturday afternoon, limiting Daniels to just eight points on 2-for-8 shooting and limiting UConn to just seven offensive and 23 total rebounds. But it still wasn’t enough, as Shabazz Napier scored a career-high 34 points and Ryan Boatright added 21 in leading the Huskies to the 86-81 overtime win.
So what was the problem for Memphis on Saturday? The free throw line. UConn was able to attempt 36 shots from the charity stripe, making 29, while Memphis finished the game 6-for-9. Regardless of how well a team shoots from the field or from three, making up that kind of difference is extremely difficult.
Josh Pastner’s team shot 54% from the field and 7-for-15 from beyond the arc, with all four of their talented guards scoring in double figures. Joe Jackson was excellent, scoring 24 points (10-for-17 FG) and dishing out seven assists with just two turnovers, and Geron Johnson snapped out of his two-game slump (4-for-13 FG) by making seven of his ten shots from the field. Johnson finished the game with 15 points to go along with eight rebounds, leading the way on the glass for the Tigers.
There will be lessons to be learned from this result, including how hard the Memphis big men hedge on ball screens, with an eye towards a possible third meeting in the American Athletic Conference tournament. But it’s hard to find much fault with the way in which Memphis played in Hartford, other than the struggles in getting to the foul line.
In conference play Memphis ranks fifth in the American in free throw rate, which comes as a bit of a surprise given how good their guards can be at attacking off the dribble. Moving forward, the Tigers will need to improve their standing in this area if they’re to fully take advantage of their offensive talent.