In a young season of nail biting finishes this was the perfect ending to one of the most hard fought and exciting games UConn has played to this point. Senior guard Shabazz Napier took a loose ball off the hands of DeAndre Daniels and knocked down a twelve footer in the lane as time expired lifting the twelfth ranked Huskies to an improbable 65-64 nationally televised (ESPN) win over #15 (AP) Florida before raucous sold out Gampel Pavilion crowd on the Storrs campus Monday night.
Big man on campus
On a night when UConn’s bigs were in foul trouble and the Huskies struggled to find an offense in the paint Shabazz (26 pts) was the man. Trailing by three with under a minute to play Napier hit a three and was fouled Dorian Finney-Smith, but crashed to the floor holding his left ankle. Despite being shaken up he popped up as soon as he could before coach Kevin Ollie was forced to take him out and find someone else to finish the ‘and one’. Napier’s four point play gave the Huskies a 63-62 lead with 33 seconds left on the clock.
“Shabazz (Napier) was phenomenal”, said Ollie, “Every time we needed a big shot he made it. Every time we needed a play to be made, he made that.”
Florida (6-2), playing without point guard Scottie Wilbekin (15 pts), who went down with an ankle injury late in the second half, took the lead, 64-63, on a driving lay-up by Michael Frazier II (7 pts, 5 rbs) with 18 seconds left. UConn called its final timeout to draw up the potential game winner. Napier took the ball across half court and was trapped immediately and appeared to lose the handle on the ball splitting the double team. The loose ball went off Daniels, back to Napier who launched an off balance shot wide right. Daniels managed to get a hand on the ball tipping it blindly backwards right into Napier’s hands, with Shabazz knocking down the game winner at the buzzer, sending the UConn crowd into delirium.
Said Shabazz, “I knew (Florida) was going to trap and as soon as I saw them trap I tried to get through it. The ball was tipped and it was kind of chaotic after that. I thought ‘I have to shoot’. Shot it and missed it terribly. DeAndre (Daniels) got a hand on it and I was in the right spot at the right time.”
On the game winning sequence Florida coach Billy Donovan said, “We made the decision that we were going to trap (Napier). We did trap him and got him to take a very difficult off balance shot. The guy that won the game for (UConn) was DeAndre Daniels. He made an unbelievable tip out, off balance, which kept the ball alive. I thought we did a good job defensively.”
Living on the edge
It was the third game this season UConn has won by a single point edging both Maryland and Indiana in similar fashion. Last night’s game was just a terrific basketball game that featured fourteen lead changes, nine in the second half, seven ties and neither team able to take more than an eight point lead.
Said Ollie on the win, “I’m happy, but a little exhausted. Another one point game. Once again we showed our resolve . We didn’t get rebounds down the stretch. We didn’t do a lot of things, but at the end of the day we got a win because it’s about our heart. We’re not the biggest team in America, but I wouldn’t trade our heart for anybody.”
Never say die
UConn (8-0), out-rebounded yet again, 34-26, relied heavily on the perimeter to keep themselves in the game, shooting over 50% from beyond the arc in the first half and finishing 11-24 for the game from three point land. The Huskies offense looked stymied mid way through the second as the Gators built a seven point lead with just under thirteen to play. Ollie called a thirty second timeout to regroup. After the timeout UConn behind Napier, Daniels and a Niels Giffey (8 pts, 2 three’s) answered with a 10-0 run to take a three point lead, 51-48, with ten to go.
Ollie laid out the keys to run, “Threes. We got some good defensive stops, because if you’re going to have a 10-0 run you need to play offense and then you need to play defense. And, like I said, the crowd was phenomenal. Our student section was great.”
Two minutes later a Ryan Boatright (9 pts, 4 assts) three gave UConn a five point lead, 54-49, before five answered by the Gators knotted the score at 54 just north of the six minute mark. The teams remained within a basket of each other the rest of the way before the Napier heroics kept UConn among the nations unbeatens.
Said Ollie, “Just a great UConn win.”