“I definitely enjoy it. I kinda hate playing against teams we’re just going to demolish. I really do. I think I play bad in those games because I don’t even want to play. But I understand that these games right here are much-needed and I think we did what we had to do to win this game.”
Those were the words of UConn point guard Shabazz Napier following the Huskies’ 86-81 overtime win over Memphis on February 15 according to Kevin Duffy of the Connecticut Post. That game was an entertaining affair between two of the programs expected to carry the banner of the American Athletic Conference into the future.
Those games are easy to get up for. Others, such as UConn’s game at USF on Wednesday night, require something more. And for much of the evening Kevin Ollie’s team lacked the energy and execution needed to put away the Bulls, but an 18-0 second half run sparked by Ryan Boatright’s 11 points turned things around. The end result was a 61-56 victory that won’t stand out on the Huskies’ resume as they look to improve their NCAA tournament seeding, but it looks far better than an upset loss would have.
Napier (17 points) and Boatright (14) combined to score 31 of UConn’s 61 points, and given how reliant the Huskies are on their starting guards the point distribution doesn’t come as a surprise. But they combined to shoot 9-for-24 from the field, and against better competition in the coming weeks UConn will need better shooting (and shot selection) from its two best scoring options.
Offensively Napier and Boatright will need help, with DeAndre Daniels, Niels Giffey and Lasan Kromah being the scoring options most capable of providing that assistance. Against USF Giffey (11 points) and Kromah (eight) were productive, but the Huskies are going to need more from Daniels if they’re to entertain thoughts of winning multiple games in the NCAA tournament.
Daniels finished the game with five points and five rebounds, and in his last four games the junior’s shooting just 36.4% from the field. With Napier and Boatright being the first two options the shots aren’t always going to be plentiful for Daniels, but he has to be aggressive and take advantage of the opportunities that he does get.
UConn struggled mightily in the first half, but improved shot-making and their ability to convert USF turnovers into points (20 points off of 11 USF turnovers) led to Kevin Ollie’s team leaving Tampa with the win. UConn will need to be better against Cincinnati on Saturday afternoon if they’re to add another quality win to their resume.