Nov. 9, 2012
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany - University of Connecticut junior guard Shabazz Napier (Roxbury, Mass.) scored 25 points and the Huskies beat No. 14 Michigan State 66-62 Friday night in the Armed Forces Classic -- Kevin Ollie's first game as the Huskies' head coach. The game was played in a hangar at the U.S. Air Base in Ramstein.
With both teams playing in uniforms resembling military fatigues, Michigan State trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half as the Huskies opened with a 6-0 run.
"We are too fast, we are a transition team and when we get going, no one can keep up with us," Napier said. "We just tried to do what they did, transition. We got some easy rebounds, they came off the boards and we let them go."
Ollie's first game and win as the Huskies' head coach was watched by former coach Jim Calhoun, who worked as the color radio commentator on the UConn IMG Sports Radio Network.
After the game, UConn players and Ollie ran and embraced Calhoun, the Hall of Famer who retired in September.
"He's always been by my side and I appreciate him so much," Ollie said. "He told me don't lay on this, build on it and continue to make them play hard. It's a great win for our program, for the new era. A lot of people could have quit but they stayed here for what Coach Calhoun built."
Ollie leads a team that returns just five players who saw significant playing time last season.
This is the first season that someone other than Calhoun has been the head coach since Dom Perno coached his final game in 1986.
Three UConn players hail from Germany. Junior Niels Giffey (Berlin, Germany) scored three points and junior Enosch Wolf (Goettingen, Germany) had two. Freshman Leon Tolksdorf (Berlin, Germany) did not play.
UConn led most of the way and by 16 points in the first half. "We executed the game plan and the game plan was to play hard. We stepped up to the plate, we took the challenge and we came up with a victory," Ollie said.
Keith Appling scored 17 points and Branden Dawson had 15 points and 10 rebounds for Michigan State. Gary Harris scored to pull the Spartans to 62-60, but Denzel Valentine and Appling each missed a shot in the last minute that would have tied the game, forcing Michigan State to foul.
Napier hit four free throws in the final 13 seconds to seal the win. Sophomore guard Ryan Boatright (Aurora, Ill.) had 13 points, despite rolling his ankle in the second half, and sophomore DeAndre Daniels (Los Angeles, Calif.) added 12 for the Huskies.
The 14th-ranked Spartans hit just one of their first eight shots, while Connecticut made nine of its first 10, and raced out to a 20-6 lead on a three-pointer from Napier.
A steal by Napier and a lob to Boatright made it 32-18 Huskies, who stretched that to 16. The Spartans closed the half on a 10-2 run, but trailed 40-33 at intermission. Boatright rolled his left ankle less that three minutes into the second half and was hobbled the rest of the game.
The Huskies, who shot 46 percent while holding the Spartans to 40 percent, won despite being outrebounded 34-25.
UConn flies home on Saturday and then takes on Vermont at Gampel Pavilion on Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. The game will be televised by SNY and ESPN Region Television and heard on the WTIC IMG Sports Radio Network.