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Senior Night was a rousing success.
Following an emotional pre-game ceremony, No. 19 UConn beat Rutgers, 69-63, in the regular season home finale.
“It was just a wonderful, special moment for me to get this win,” coach Kevin Ollie said.
It was fitting that seniors Shabazz Napier and Niels Giffey carried the Huskies, scoring a game-high 26 and a career-best 16 points, respectively. They were a combined 14-for-22 from the field, including 11-for-18 from 3-point range.
“We were so pumped up and hyped up for this game it was just easier to play for us…,” Giffey said. “That’s really the perfect end for me playing here in Gampel.”
The Huskies improved to 24-6 overall, 12-5 in the American Athletic Conference.
Here’s a post-game breakdown:
-- As you might expect, Ollie raved about his seniors. Check out the attached video to see what he said during his post-game press conference.
“I owe them a lot and thank them for the opportunity to coach them,” Ollie said.
It was the final home game for Napier, Giffey, Tyler Olander, graduate student Lasan Kromah and walk-on Tor Watts who all received their framed jerseys during the pre-game ceremony.
The starting lineup included Napier, Giffey, Olander and Kromah as well as junior DeAndre Daniels.
-- In a touching moment, Napier walked over and hugged former coach Jim Calhoun after embracing Ollie during the Senior Night ceremony.
“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here at all,” Napier said. “I grew with him. He helped me out throughout my whole entire four years here and he continues to do so.”
-- Olander played well in a limited role, chipping in four points and three rebounds in 13 minutes. Kromah had three points on 1-for-7 from the field.
-- The Huskies had one of their best perimeter shooting games this season, converting 12 of 25 from 3-point range. Napier hit a career-high seven out of 11 attempts and Giffey was four for seven. Lasan Kromah accounted for the other one.
Napier fell two short of tying Ray Allen’s record for 3-pointers in a game.
-- Daniels failed to score in double figures for a season-high fourth straight game, finishing with seven points and adding a team-best six rebounds. But he did make a big block with about 30 seconds remaining and UConn leading by four. Foul trouble helped limit him to just 21 minutes.
-- The Huskies were out-rebounded for the fourth time in five games. That’s a growing concern.
Rutgers, which ranks eighth in conference games in rebounding margin at minus 2.9 per game, held a 37-28 edge.
-- This was a tight game to the finish. UConn never trailed in the second half but led by just single digits most of the final 20 minutes.
“At the end of the day, we made stops and got a win,” Ollie said.
The Huskies forced 16 turnovers and held the Scarlet Knights to 43.6 percent from the field.
-- Ollie took the microphone and thanked the fans after the game.
“Hopefully we’ll be back here in April to celebrate,” Ollie said.
Yes, he means celebrate a national championship.
“I believe we’re going to be back here, so I’m going to say it,” Ollie said. “I believe that we’re going to win the national championship.”
-- Napier on Senior Night: “I was excited to come out and play. I told the guys that even though it’s Senior Day, we have to come out and play the same way. … But it was definitely a special moment.”
-- You have to feel for slumping sophomore Omar Calhoun. He continues to just miss shots and went 0-for-3 on Wednesday. He’s made just one of his last 19 shots.
“He’s going to get out of his slump,” Giffey said. “I’ve been talking to him.”
-- The Huskies, who’ve won seven of their last eight games, moved into a tie for third place with Southern Methodist. They finish the regular season with a tough game at No. 11 Louisville on Saturday. The Cardinals can clinch at least a tie for the regular season title with a win.
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.