R.J. happy to be part of journey

UConn's Shabazz Napier (13) sprints down the court with Providence's Kris Dunn, the former New London great, in pursuit during the Huskies' 63-59 overtime victory over the Friars on Saturday in Storrs.
UConn's Shabazz Napier (13) sprints down the court with Providence's Kris Dunn, the former New London great, in pursuit during the Huskies' 63-59 overtime victory over the Friars on Saturday in Storrs. Fred Beckham/AP Photo

Storrs - Now that his UConn career is over, R.J. Evans just might have a future as an inspirational speaker.

Prior to Saturday's 63-59 overtime win over Providence, Evans gave a speech in the locker room.

"I just told them I was proud to be part of this team and I love them," Evans said. "We've been through so much stuff this year and we stuck together. We had one last chapter to write in our book and that was to beat PC. We really came together after that and had a good warmup. I felt that helped us."

Coach Kevin Ollie gave Evans a warm hug during the postgame celebration.

"I had him speak in front of the group before we came out," Ollie said. "I think everybody was crying because it came from the heart. He's been here one year but he's part of our family for life."

It was an emotional day for Evans, who was honored during pregame Senior Day festivities. His teammates appreciate Evans' contributions this season.

"This team wouldn't have done what we did without R.J.," sophomore Ryan Boatright said. "He's such a leader, on the floor and off the floor."

On Saturday, Evans didn't score but had six rebounds, a steal and block and played great defense on Providence guard Bryce Cotton, the Big East's leading scorer.

Cotton had just nine points on 4-for-13 shooting. He came in averaging 20 points per game.

Evans, an NFA graduate from Salem, dogged Cotton all over the court. Most of all, he was happy to go out with a win.

"You probably couldn't draw it up any better," Evans said. "Playing home my last game against Providence, a team that is one of our rivals in the Big East, and to get a win in overtime, it's a great way to go out."

Turning pro?

Junior Shabazz Napier returned to the lineup after sitting out two games with a sore right foot. He made a major impact, contributing valuable leadership as well as 16 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four steals in 44 minutes.

He decided to play about 35 minutes before the game. He fought off the mounting pain in the second half and overtime.

"Watching these last two games broke me down," Napier said. "I wanted to play so bad. I'm glad I came in and played."

Now Napier has another big decision to make: return for his senior year or turn pro.

"I'm just thinking about this team right now," Napier said. "I really haven't thought about that. I just want to have fun with this day."

Boatright also will contemplate his future. He will talk to Ollie, who can tap into his NBA connections from his 13-year playing career.

"He's my coach so I'll definitely listen to him, but it's my decision," Boatright said. "I'm going to discuss it with my family and my coach as to what will be the best fit."

Homecoming for Dunn

Former New London standout Kris Dunn had a good homecoming game. Starting in the backcourt for the Friars, he finished with 11 points, four assists and two steals before fouling out with 3:16 remaining in overtime.

PC associate head coach Andre LaFleur said that Dunn, an athletic 6-3 freshman guard, has made steady improvement throughout the season.

"Defensively, all the NBA guys say he can defend at that level," LaFleur said.

News and notes

UConn is holding a ground-breaking ceremony for its new practice facility on April 16. The target completion date is May 2014. The Huskies improved to 5-2 in overtime games. Dave Vandal, a senior walk-on from Stonington, also participated in Senior Day. After being outrebounded by 31 in the first meeting, an 82-79 UConn win in overtime, the Huskies held a 39-38 edge despite playing without two injured frontcourt players in Tyler Olander and Niels Giffey. Freshman Omar Calhoun (sore right wrist) sat out his first game this season.

g.keefe@theday.com

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