Feb. 14, 2013
By Scott Waggoner
University of Connecticut men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie wasn’t worried about the length of Syracuse that the Huskies would have to face Wednesday night at the XL Center.
He knew what his backcourt was capable of doing on a big stage and after UConn’s 66-58 upset victory over the No. 6 Orangemen the rest of the country now does too.
“Our guards it starts and stops with them,” Ollie said. “I have big time faith in our guys. I know they’re long but we have heart and you can’t measure that.”
Connecticut’s starting backcourt has been the catalyst for the Huskies all season and Wednesday it was the difference, accounting for 42 of UConn’s points. Sophomore Ryan Boatright had a game-high 17 points, while freshman Omar Calhoun added 15 points, many of which came during a crucial stretch in the second half.
Boatright and junior Shabazz Napier had little trouble penetrating Syracuse’s zone defense, using their quickness to get in the lane and create scoring opportunities for the Husky shooters. The two combined for 11 assists and were a big reason for a very efficient night offensively for the Huskies, who shot 46.7 percent from the field and won the game despite shooting 20 fewer attempts than the Orangemen.
“When we got into the half court we converted and it was just great ball movement from our guards,” Ollie said.
When Napier and Boatright did breakdown Syracuse’s defense, Calhoun was ready to knock down the shot. With the game tied at 42 and just over 10 minutes to go Calhoun found his stroke, hitting three three-pointers in less than four minutes to put the Huskies up by nine and in control of the game.
“I knew there were opportunities to make big plays and that’s what I work on and stay in the gym for so I can knock down shots,” Calhoun said. “I was able to get my feet ready quick and shoot it because they’re a long team and you have to be able to get your shot off quick.”
Defensively, Connecticut was able to force Syracuse into a lot of poor shots. The Orangemen shot just four of 23 from the three-point line, as the Huskies dared them to make outside shots and did a good job of not allowing many easy baskets.
“We just tried to play as hard as we can defensively,” Napier said. “We had all five guys paying attention to the ball as well as paying attention to their man and we stuck together.”
Connecticut received timely contributions from everyone, including freshman forward Phillip Nolan, who came off the bench and grabbed five big rebounds. Five players scored at least eight points and the Huskies’ willingness to play unselfish basketball paid off once again.
“We all chipped in,” Napier said. “No one really cares about being the highlight player and today was a great example of that. It’s such a great feeling to be on a team that wants to win and doesn’t really care about who gets the most points.”
The Huskies will look to improve their conference record Saturday when they host Villanova at the XL Center. Tipoff is set for noon and the game can be seen on ESPN and heard on the UConn IMG Sports Radio Network.