It’s rare when a successful season ends with a win but there’s no hardware waiting for the winner to signify the win or highlight success. For UConn there’s no Big East regular season trophy and, because of the post season ban, no chance for a shot at a Big East tourney title or another magical run through the NCAA’s. Nonetheless, UConn’s 63-59 overtime win over Providence on Senior Day Saturday at Gampel Pavilion was by all measures a tip of the cap to the success of the Huskies 2012-2013 campaign.
The victory gave first year head coach Kevin Ollie a 20 win season with his Huskies (20-10, 10-8) finishing two games over .500 in conference play. It was a fitting end as UConn leaves the conference it has called home since 1979.
Ryan Boatright talked about the team’s focus on getting Ollie his 20th win, “The players have been talking about it a lot. We really wanted to get him 20 plus wins this year because we fought so hard and worked so hard, it meant so much to this team.”
The win, UConn’s second overtime win over Providence (17-13, 9-9) this season, also put a serious damper on the Friars hopes on an at-large bid barring a long run in the Big East Tournament. Coming in, the Huskies prospects for victory were bleak as UConn came in losers of three straight with three key players sidelined and Shabazz Napier hobbled by a foot injury. Niels Giffey (Broken hand), Tyler Olander (Broken foot) and Omar Calhoun (Bad wrist) were all in street clothes leaving Ollie’s bench pretty thin.
Providence coach Ed Cooley had high praise for the job coach Ollie has done this year saying, “Kevin’s (Ollie)done a great job this year under the circumstances. So, give him a lot of credit and I hope you media guys appreciate what he’s been able to do. He’ll do a great job here.”
When it was all said and done only seven players saw action with Boatright (23 pts, 5 asst), DeAndre Daniels (19 pts, 8 rbs), Napier (16 pts, 8 rbs, 4 asst) and senior R.J. Evans all logging over 40 minutes of play. Phillip Nolan tallied 34 minutes with Brendan Allen and Leon Tolksdorf seeing limited action. It was a testament to UConn’s heady play that no one had more than three fouls for the game.
“Shabazz came back from the foot injury”, said Ollie, “And played marvelously. Running the tempo and controlling the whole game. He was just a special player out there.”
Daniels scored the first three points of the game with a reverse layup following it up 30 seconds later by hitting one of two foul shots. LaDontae Henton answered with a Friar bucket cutting the early lead to 3-2. It would be as close as Providence would get before the half as the Huskies led by as many as ten twice settling on a 32-26 lead going into the break.
Seesaw second half and another overtime
Providence came out the aggressor starting the second half quickly erasing the Huskies lead and taking their first lead of the game 36-34 just over three minutes in. Providence would stretch the lead to four twice before a Daniels jump hook and pair of Boatright free throws knotted the score at 45 with 10:24 to play. Four lead changes and four ties later Providence had the ball with 32 seconds left in regulation but a block by Daniels of a potential game winning jumper by Henton with three seconds left ended up in the hands of Napier with 1.1 showing on the clock and the scored tied at 55. A desperation heave by Napier following a timeout fell well short sending UConn to its’ record seventh overtime game this season.
Napier opened the scoring in the extra five minute frame with a spin move in the lane with Boatright knocking down two free throws pushing UConn’s lead to four 59-55 with 3:16 left. Both teams were scoreless until a Josh Fortune put back cut the lead to two 59-57 with 1:31 showing. A pair of Henton foul shots knotted the score at 59 with under a minute to go. UConn ran the clock down before Boatright attacked the left side of the lane throwing up rainbow runner that somehow found the bottom of the net drawing a foul in the process. Boatright finished off the old fashioned three with the Friars missing a layup on the other end and Napier hauling in the rebound and icing the game hitting one of two from the line to the delight of the capacity crowd.
“Fantastic year”, said Ollie, “Sad that it’s over. I’m very happy and satisfied with this team. What they gave me that started in Germany and then to go to the Virgin Islands and play three games in three nights. With that Quinnipiac win (89-83 2OT win) I knew we had something special. The resolve, the resilience they showed. The dedication they showed through the ups and downs and through all the changes.”
With no post season UConn men’s basketball begins life after the Big East with the Huskies joining the tentatively named America 12 Conference featuring other Big East holdovers Cincinnati and South Florida.
Ollie reflected on the Big East and UConn going forward, “I grew up watching Big East against (Teams like) Syracuse, but change happens. Now we have to change our approach, but we need to have the same recipe that’s given us national championships. We have to change our approach as a coaching staff and as a university. The product, the dominance and the tradition are still going to be there. The journeys not over, it’s just beginning.”
The other big question surrounding the Huskies is the future of junior guard Napier as he explores the possibility of jumping to the next level.
“We’ll give him feedback”, said Ollie on Napier’s pro prospects, “I know a lot of (General Managers). I know a lot of people out there and we’ll just give him feedback. Of course, (Napier) is gonna have to make a decision he can live with, but whatever decision he makes we’re gonna support him.”
Napier on his future, “Me and coach will sit down when he calls me into his office and we’ll talk about (The pros).”
Kevin Ollie has been named one of ten finalists for the Joe B. Hall Award given to the top first year coach in Division I…Hall was 20-8 in his first year after taking over the reins from legendary Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp…UConn is 5-2 in overtime games this season…UConn’s four seniors are R.J. Evans, Kiefer Lammi, Trey James and Dave Vandal…With the win, UConn is 44-28 all-time versus the Friars in a series that dates back to 1927.