Throughout the season guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright have led the way for No. 21 UConn, with role players such as DeAndre Daniels and Niels Giffey chipping in when needed. And that has been the case at the American Athletic Conference tournament, with those role players making valuable contributions in wins over No. 19 Memphis and No. 13 Cincinnati.
In their 58-56 win over the Bearcats Giffey scored 11 points and Daniels added 14 to go along with nine rebounds, joining Napier (15 points) and Boatright (13) in double figures. Those four starters combined to score 53 of the Huskies’ 58 points, and with Cincinnati being as tough as they are defensively a two-man attack wasn’t going to get the job done.
UConn needed more and Giffey and Daniels stepped forward, moving the Huskies into Saturday’s title game against No. 5 Louisville.
Another key contributor for UConn was center Amida Brimah, who in 21 minutes of action scored four points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked four shots. The freshman isn’t ready to be a marquee offensive option at this stage in his career but he has the ability to be the rim protector this group needs, and he filled that role opposite the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in Cincinnati’s Justin Jackson.
Brimah’s presence contributed to one of UConn’s best defensive performances of the season, limiting the Bearcats to 37.9% shooting and leading scorer Sean Kilpatrick to 5-for-15 from the field. That defense helped the Huskies win despite being outscored 32-14 in the paint and 17-7 in points off of turnovers.
The turnover area is something UConn will have to clean up in order to beat Louisville, which is red-hot and swept the regular season series. Do that, and the Huskies will have a shot at winning the inaugural American tournament title. And if UConn’s role player can continue to supplement the efforts of their backcourt as they have this week, Kevin Ollie’s group is capable of making a run in the NCAA tournament.