The road to the postseason got a little easier for the UConn men after the Huskies upset the No. 11-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats, 51-45, before 16,294 fans at the XL Center on Saturday. Shabazz Napier led all scorers with 18 points, and also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds for the Huskies, who improved to 23-6, 11-5 in the American Athletic Conference. Sean Kilpatrick led the Bearcats, who slipped to 24-5, 13-3 in conference play, with 16 points, but shot just 25 percent (4-for-16) from the field.
UConn led by two points, 9-7, after Kilpatrick grabbed a rebound of his own missed layup and put it right back up and in. That ignited a 10-0 Cincinnati run that saw the Bearcats take a 15-9 lead. But the Huskies came right back with a 9-0 run of their own before the pace of the game settled down.
The Huskies led by the slimmest of margins—one point—at intermission. But after going on a 13-4 run to open the second half, Connecticut opened a 10-point advantage, 39-29, with 8:40 remaining in regulation. Not only was the Husky offense clicking, but the UConn “D” held Cincinnati to just one field goal in the first seven and a half minutes of the second stanza.
Then it was Cincinnati's turn to apply the heat as Bearcats cut the UConn lead to just three, 45-42, with 3:14 remaining. Indeed, the Huskies' offense turned stone cold. After Ryan Boatright slammed down a dunk to give the Huskies a nine-point lead, 41-32, Connecticut went scoreless from the field for the last 7:39 of the contest.
“We went into a little drought and we didn't allow that to deter us on the defensive end,” said Napier, the Huskies' Naismith Player-of-the-Year candidate. “Guys were just continuing to work hard and that was exactly what we needed.”
Napier, too, was not exactly a sharpshooter. The 6-1 senior guard from Roxbury, Mass., shot just 31 percent (4-for-13) from the floor.
Cincinnati hung close right to the very end, trailing by just four points with 36 seconds remaining. But the Connecticut defense came up big when it counted the most, holding on for what might be the Huskies' biggest win thus far in the 2013-14 season. Relying almost exclusively on defense—the Huskies shot just 15-for-48 for the game, but held the Bearcats to 13-for-48 shooting—20 of Connecticut's points came off of 20 Cincinnati turnovers.
“You have to get stops even if you're missing shots,” said Boatright. “As long as you can stop them from scoring, your points are going to come. If you can play defense, you can get out in transition and get layups.”
“There wasn't going to be a lot of X's and O's this game,” added UConn head coach Kevin Ollie. “There was going to be a lot of punches thrown... and thank God we threw the last punch and we got out with a victory.
The Huskies have now won six of their last seven games since losing to the Bearcats 63-58 on Feb. 6 in Cincinnati.
Next up for the Huskies will be the 11-18 Scarlet Knights of Rutgers, who will visit the Gampel Pavilion on Wednesday night. Tip-off is at 7 p.m., and the game will be televised on ESPNU.