By Dom Amore, Hartford Courant
HARTFORD – Shabazz Napier scored a career-high 34 points, dominating the second half and adding a critical three-pointer in OT as the Huskies outlasted Memphis, 86-81 before 16,294 in American Athletic Conference men’s basketball at the XL Center on Saturday.
It was a grueling game for UConn; the Tigers played much better than they did in losing to the Huskies in Memphis last month. Memphis dominated the boards in the second half and burned UConn’s defense for easy baskets throughout, shooting 57 percent from the floor during regulation to UConn’s 36 percent.
But the Huskies continued to attack the basket and get to the foul line, keeping themselves in the game with 20 made free throws in 23 attempts to the Tigers’ 3-for-6 in regulation. Ryan Boatright scored 21 for UConn. By game’s end, UConn took 36 free throws, Memphis nine.
Memphis led 69-66 when Napier, who scored 19 points in the second half, drove to the basket and scored, drawing a foul and completing the three-point play to tie the game with 52 seconds left.
DeAndre Daniels made a crucial block at the other end, stopping Shaq Goodwin under the basket. In the ensuing scramble for the ball, tempers flared. Following an officials’ review, the Huskies were given the ball with 16 seconds left. Napier’s 20-foot shot at the buzzer rattled in and out, and the game went to OT, the first time his season for the Huskies.
Napier put the Huskies ahead with a free throw to start OT, and Daniels made another block at the other end. Ryan Boatright’s three-pointer gave UConn a 75-71 lead and a lot of momentum, as the sellout crowd got louder.
Napier’s three-pointer upped UCon’s lead to 79-74, and gave him a career high with 32 points. The Huskies continued to march to the line, and closed the game out there.
Joe Jackson scored 24 for Memphis (19-6, 8-4 in the AAC). UConn (20-5, 8-4) tied Memphis in the conference standings, and could leap-frog the 20th-ranked Tigers in the polls this week. The Huskies are ranked 24th.
The first half was a back-and-forth affair. Memphis jumped out to a 12-5 lead, then UConn had an 18-2 run to take a nine-point lead, 23-14.
Back came the Tigers with a 10-0 run to regain the lead. UConn was driving and getting to the line, taking 10 free throws before Memphis got to the line once. But the Tigers were outshooting the Huskies from the floor, hitting 15 of 27 shots in the first half. Geron Johnson was 5-for-7 for 11 points.
Shabazz Napier led UConn in the first half with nine points, but sat for six minutes after Memphis’ second run. Napier returned for the last minute, and Niels Giffey hit a wide-open three-pointer to put the Huskies back on top, 36-33, but the Tigers worked it inside to Austin Nichols, who threw it down to make it a one-point game as the half expired.
Though Memphis controlled the boards in the second half, Napier took over the game for a long stretch, scoring 14 of 17 UConn points during one stretch. He hit a three-pointer, his 23rd point of the game, to give UConn a 58-51 lead. But Memphis continued to respond to each Husky surge with one of its own, closing to 60-58 on Michael Dixon Jr.’s lay-in with 7:51 to play.