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UConn stopped a season-high two-game losing streak on Sunday at the XL Center in Hartford.
The Huskies played an uneven game and eventually pulled away behind a determined defense and a rebounding edge.
UConn out-rebounded an opponent for just the fifth time this season, posting a 37-33 advantage.
The final: UConn 66, Rutgers 54
“We were plus four on the backboards, which I love to see,” coach Kevin Ollie said. “We held them under 40 percent, which I love to see. So, that’s improvement. Now, we have to be consistent. Now we have to go to the next game and the next game and start stringing them together.”
The Huskies improved to 13-5 overall, 3-3 in the Big East. And they beat the Scarlet Knights for the 11th time in the last 12 meetings.
Here’s your post-game breakdown:
-- Gritty defense bailed out an inconsistent offense.
UConn held Rutgers to 39 percent shooting and forced 16 turnovers.
Both junior Niels Giffey and sophomore DeAndre Daniels turned steals into baskets during a game-turning second half run that propelled UConn in front for good.
The Huskies never trailed after taking a 35-32 lead on Giffey’s natural 3-point play with 9:54 remaining.
“It was the tipping point,” Giffey said of the play.
-- Giffey made a significant impact on the game. He finished seven points, a career-high four steals and three rebounds in a productive 22 minutes.
“When I look up versatility in the dictionary, I see Niels Giffey’s picture by it,” Ollie said. “I can him to play the three, the four, two, one, he just steps up and does it. I love him to death. He played an excellent game."
-- Junior Shabazz Napier’s sore left shoulder appears to be on the mend. He played well, finishing with 19 points, six assists and five rebounds. He scored 10 of his points in the final eight and a half minutes.
“I wasn’t thinking too much about my shoulder,” Napier said. “I was just excited about how well we were playing defense.”
Napier went 6-for-13 from the field. Nine of his 13 shots came from 3-point land.
It is the 10th time this season that Napier has led the Huskies in scoring.
Rutgers coach Mike Rice praised the play of Napier.
“The game’s slow to him,” Rice said. “When he wants to go fast, he goes fast. When he wants to get a shot, he gets a shot. He doesn’t rush things. From last year, he’s really matured his approach and how he runs his team.”
-- Reserve center Enosch Wolf provided an inside presence, finishing with a career-high three blocks. He also had two points and three rebounds.
“If I stay focused, good things are going to happen,” Wolf said.
But junior Tyler Olander remained inconsistent. He started and played just 17 minutes, contributing two points and four rebounds.
In the last three games, he has a total of eight points and 11 rebounds.
-- The Huskies led 27-20 at the break. They improved to 10-1 when leading at half.
-- It took time for the Huskies to find their shooting touch in the second half. After missing 10 of their first 11 shots, they converted 10 of their last 17.
The Huskies finished shooting 42.3 percent from the field overall.
-- Rutgers sophomore guard Jerome Seagears had a career game, scoring 21 points. It was the first time that he scored in double figures this season. He came in averaging 4.5 per game.
Guard Eli Carter, the team’s leading scorer, came off the bench and finished with 13 points on 5-for-14 shooting.
-- Daniels scored in double figures for only the second time in seven games. He had 13 points to go with seven rebounds.
In UConn’s last game, he failed to grab a rebound in 20 minutes in the loss at Pittsburgh on Jan. 19.
-- The Huskies had only four second chance points. Daniels scored off a put-back with 4:04 left to break the drought.
-- Sophomore Ryan Boatright found a way to score 15 points despite playing just eight minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. He also had three assists and four turnovers in 28 minutes.
-- Up next: UConn visits Providenceon Thursday. It will be the first time that R.J. Evans (NFA) and Kris Dunn (New London) face each other.
Today’s American Athletic Conference Championship semifinal doubleheader is underway here at the XL Center in Hartford. A crowd in the 12,000-13,000 range is expected for the UConn-Tulsa game. Tip-off time is 5 p.m.