Huskies shoot the lights out
Storrs - Stony Brook clogged the lane and challenged UConn to shoot from the perimeter on Sunday afternoon.
Given the fact that UConn's quick guards have carved up opponents by attacking the basket and the Huskies came in shooting 30 percent from 3-point land, it appeared to be a smart strategy.
Only it backfired.
Torrid 3-point shooting ignited UConn's decisive run midway through the second half on the way to a 73-62 victory at Gampel Pavilion.
"They got on a run and made 3's," said Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell, a former UConn guard and ex-assistant coach. "I didn't expect that. That's not what they've been doing."
Junior Shabazz Napier (a game-high 19 points), freshman Omar Calhoun (14 points) and junior reserve Niels Giffey, who finished with career highs in points (15) and rebounds (8), torched the Seawolves (4-2). They each made three 3-pointers, helping UConn sink a season-high 10 out of 22 attempts, or 45.5 percent.
In the second half, the Huskies (5-1) went 8-for-11 from beyond the arc, making eight of their last nine. They closed out the game from the foul line.
"I haven't seen this team shoot like this in a while," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "That's what we needed. It came off great penetration from (Ryan) Boatright. They started sharing the basketball."
No. 21 UConn trailed for most of the first 30 minutes, including 31-26 halftime. The Huskies were playing without injured R.J. Evans, the team's sparkplug off the bench.
The Seawolves had to deal with their own adversity, fighting fatigue while playing their second game in just over 24 hours. Their active defense frustrated the Huskies who started 2-for-15 from the field. But UConn also stayed in the fight because of its tenacious defense.
Trailing 39-35 with 13 minutes left, the Huskies ignited their offensive fireworks.
Napier set off the 3-point barrage to push UConn in front for good, 42-39. Then Giffey buried one, starting a string of seven straight UConn field goals from 3-point land.
"I think we did a much better job in the second half finding each other and playing team basketball," Ollie said.
Calhoun hit back-to-back 3-pointers, followed by one apiece from Napier and Giffey. Then Napier fired in one in the act of being fouled. His four-point play capped a 26-8 run and up the lead to 61-47 lead with 4:16 remaining.
And, for the cherry on top of the 3-point float, Calhoun converted another.
All of UConn's points in the final 11:40 came from either beyond the arc or foul line. The sizzling perimeter shooting display didn't surprise Napier.
"We're more of a penetrate and drive team," Napier said. "If we're able to get those shots where we're open, we're going to knock them down."
Another important development was the terrific all-around play of Giffey, who went from a supporting to starring role.
"Days like that are going to come if you work hard," Giffey said. "Those are the things that Coach Ollie preaches every day. … Today was my day."
Ollie called Giffey his "MVP," not only of the game but also the season due in part to his work habits and attitude on and off the court.
"Niels was our glue guy," Ollie said. "And with R.J. being out… Niels just filled that void perfectly. I thought he did a beautiful job."
Giffey will be counted on to fill that void a few more games. Evans, who wore a sling holding his right arm on Sunday, is expected to be out at least a couple weeks with a sternal-clavicular sprain. But the Norwich Free Academy graduate is working hard to try to speed up his recovery time.
Now if only Ollie could figure out a way to improve the rebounding - UConn has lost the battle of the boards in all six games, including 38-35 Sunday - and get Napier to be aggressive offensively in the first half.
Once again, Napier attacked in the second half, scoring 15 of his 19 points. He's scored 88 of his 100 points in the last five games after intermission.
"I don't care too much about scoring," Napier said. "I just want to win."
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