Dec. 28, 2013
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BRIDGEPORT, Conn. - UConn senior guard Shabazz Napier (Roxbury, Mass.) had 15 points and nine assists to lead the 15th-ranked University of Connecticut men's basketball team to an 82-65 victory over Eastern Washington on Saturday before a crowd of 9,274 at the Webster Bank Arena. UConn improves to 11-1 on the season while Eastern Washignton is 5-6.
The game makred the debut of UConn men's basketball at Webster Bank Arena and was the Huskies' first home game not played in Storrs or Hartford since 1987.
Napier led a balanced offense in which five UConn players reached double figures. Junior guard Ryan Boatright (Aurora, Ill.) had 14 points and senior forward Niels Giffey (Berlin, Germany), making his first start this season, added 13 for the Huskies, who are now 7-1 on three home courts -- Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, the XL Center in Hartford and the Webster Bank Arena.
"It's just a court and a basket and a ball," said sophomore guard Omar Calhoun (Brooklyn, N.Y.), who had 12 points despite coming off the bench for the first time after 40 straight starts. "It doesn't matter what court you're playing on, as long as the crowd is on your side, it's a home game."
Tyler Harvey scored 19 points to lead Eastern Washington, which trailed by just six points midway through the second half. Ognjen Miljkovic added 15 points and Drew Brandon 13 for the Eagles, who shot nine for 28 from three-point range.
UConn came in shooting just under 44 percent on threes, but made just three of 10 shots from behind the arc. Eastern Washington was three of 13 in the first half. The Huskies had shot 46.5 percent on threes over their first nine games, but are now just 13 of 44 in their last three.
UConn made up the difference at the foul line, hitting 25 of 27. Eastern Washington took just seven foul shots, making six.
"I thought we got caught up in shooting a lot threes in a couple games, but now we're getting back to basics, and we're getting to the rim," said UConn coach Kevin Ollie.
The Huskies led 30-23 at halftime, and took their first double-digit lead at 38-27 early in the second half on a dunk by junior forward DeAndre Daniels (Los Angeles, Calif). A three-pointer by Harvey cut the Eagles' deficit to 48-42 midway through the second half, forcing Ollie to use a timeout. Napier responded with a three-point play, and UConn stretched the lead to 58-45 after five straight points from sophomore forward Phil Nolan (Milwaukee, Wisc.)
Nolan, who also had started for most of the season, came off the bench for the second straight game and finished with 11 points.
"I was happy to see him scoring and see Omar scoring, because Omar was in a little slump," said Napier. "You just see a team that's excited about scoring. We need Omar and Phil to get where we want to go."
The game, played during UConn's winter break, gave the fan base and donors in Fairfield County a chance to see the team in their own backyard. It was the first "home" game played outside of Storrs or Hartford since the Huskies lost to Syracuse, 88-71, on Jan. 3, 1987, in New Haven.
Ollie's wife, Stephanie, is from Bridgeport and had 16 members of her family at the game, which was played befor the biggest crowd in Webster Bank Arena for a sports event.
"I felt the energy from the crowd, it was just a great family atmosphere," said Ollie. "It took them a while to really start cheering, because we didn't give them an opportunity."
Harvey hit a three-pointer to give Eastern Washington an early 11-8 lead, and a layup by Drew Brandon with just over six minutes left put them in front 21-20.
The Huskies closed the first half on a 10-2 run, holding Eastern Washington scoreless for the final 4:21. Giffey had a three-pointer and a layup in a 15-second span to give UConn a 30-23 lead with just under three minutes remaining, and neither team scored the rest of the period.
"It's a positive for us," said Harvey. "I thought we competed the whole 40 minutes. We just had a few shots that rimmed in and out. I think this really helped us prepare for our conference."
UConn now travels to the state of Texas for a two-game road trip to opening the inaugural season of the American Athletic Conference. The Huskies play at Houston on Tuesday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2 and the UConn IMG Sports Radio Network. UConn then plays in Dallas agaisnt SMU on Saturday, Jan. 4 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPNU and the UConn IMG Sports Radio Network.