April 6, 2014
ARLINGTON, Texas – Down by three points in the final minute against Saint Joseph’s in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the Huskies rallied and forced overtime, where they eventually defeated the Hawks, 89-81, to advance to the next round. UConn was relieved to have won, but Saint Joseph’s guard Langston Galloway finished the game with 25 points and that bothered Connecticut junior guard Ryan Boatright (Aurora, Ill.).
“It was frustrating because he was making a lot of tough shots,” Boatright said on Sunday, one day before the Huskies face eighth-seeded Kentucky for the national championship. “It was definitely irritating.”
Boatright, like his teammates, prides himself on Connecticut’s defense play. His effort on the defensive end can be traced back to his freshman year when former UConn men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun talked to him about playing defense, something Boatright admits he didn’t have to do too much while in high school.
“It’s not easy on the defensive end, and it takes a lot of heart,” Boatright said. “You have to take pride in your defense because you can get tired.”
Now, under second-year head coach Kevin Ollie, defensive toughness has remained a staple for the Huskies, who have rattled off five straights wins over an impressive list of opponents to get back to the national title game for the fourth time in program history. While Galloway managed 25 points against UConn, the other primary scorers Connecticut has faced in the NCAA Tournament haven’t fared so well.
Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim, the Big 12 Player of the Year, averaged 17.8 points per game this season. He went 3-13 from the floor in the Sweet 16 against UConn and finished the game with just seven points. Michigan State center Adreian Payne was second on the team this season with 16.4 points a game, while guards Branden Dawson and Keith Appling both averaged double-figure point totals. Against the Huskies in the Elite Eight, Payne registered 13 points and Dawson and Appling combined to score seven points.
Connecticut’s greatest defensive performance of the tournament came Saturday night against top-seeded Florida. The Gators, who averaged 6.5 three-pointers a game, knocked down their first three-pointer of the game and jumped out to a 16-4 lead early in the first half. UConn’s defense settled in though, and Florida wouldn’t hit another shot from behind the arc, as the Gators finished the game with just three assists, the fewest by any Final Four team since assists became an official stat in the 1983-84 season.
“As far as our defensive mentality and paying attention to details, we always say the genius is in the details,” Ollie said. “We’re paying attention to more details and these guys know if we lose, we go home.”
The Huskies will face another group of talented scorers when they play Kentucky, which knocked off second-seeded Wisconsin, 74-73, on Saturday after freshman guard Aaron Harrison hit a three-pointer with 5.7 seconds left in the game. Harrison is just one of several Wildcat guards that are at least 6’5”, and Connecticut will have to deal with Kentucky’s length if it wants to take home its fourth national championship.
“They have some big guards that will try to take advantage of little guards like us,” Boatright said. “I’ve played basketball my whole left, and I’ve never been the biggest guard so I’m used to guarding guys like that.”
UConn’s game against Kentucky at AT&T Stadium on Monday is set to tip off at 9:10 ET and it can be seen on CBS and heard on the UConn IMG Radio Network.