Huskies deliver a win in tribute to Sandy Hook
Hartford - Sometime later this month, UConn hopes to travel to Newtown to show its support to a grieving community.
For now, the Huskies will do what they can to pay tribute to the victims of the tragedy.
Drawing inspiration from the Newtown community, UConn posted its most lopsided victory of the season, beating Maryland-Eastern Shore, 84-50, before 8,841 fans at the XL Center.
"I felt so bad about the whole incident," junior Shabazz Napier said. "I just wanted to come out and tribute the game to them and give the fans something to change their mind, and that was us going out playing as well as we can and giving them excitement."
During a touching pregame ceremony, somber UConn players gathered in a circle at center court, standing with cheerleaders who held 26 candles, one for each shooting victim at Sandy Hook Elementary School. There was a moment of silence and a children's choir sang the national anthem.
"It was just a great tribute to all the victims," coach Kevin Ollie said. "It's just a sad day, but we're going to continue not just to have moments, but have a movement where we can stop the violence. I think a moment is not enough.
"… Hopefully, we can get down there soon. We're trying to plan something after Christmas."
Some players added personal tributes. Sophomore Ryan Boatright wore the letters "SH" on his left cheek. Napier wrote "Sandy Hook 26" on a warm-up shirt. Each member of the coaching staff wore a green and white ribbon, representing Sandy Hook's school colors.
The tragedy hit all the Huskies hard, especially those with young family members.
Boatright's two little sisters are 8 and 10 years old. The team attended a candlelight vigil in Mansfield Sunday.
"It was heartbreaking just to know what happened to those kids," Boatright said. "Me and DeAndre have been watching the news all week. … It could have easily been my sisters. It was a humbling experience. My prayers go out to all the families."
After the ceremony, the Huskies (8-2) gradually emerged from a post-exam break fog to seize control of the nonconference game.
It certainly helped that the Huskies played an overmatched, winless opponent missing its top scorer. Playing from the first time since Dec. 7, they grabbed a 39-27 halftime lead and then opened the second half with a 26-6 run to put the game away.
Apparently, they did more than just study for exams during the break.
Several players followed Ollie's advice and spent extra time in the gym. They shot a season-high 66 percent - the program's fourth highest percentage since 1980 - and made a season-high tying 10 3-pointers out of 19 attempts.
"Our guards have been doing extra work," Ollie said. "We call it 'BDs' --- Basketball Development. … That's what they've been doing and it paid off. We keep telling the guys don't be allergic to the gym."
It was another perimeter-powered production by the Huskies, as guards Omar Calhoun (a career-high 22 points on 8-for-11 shooting), Boatright (21 points on 8-for-10) and Napier (11 points on 4-for-4) provided the scoring punch. Boatright hit a career-high five 3-pointers.
"The defense was giving us so much," Napier said. "Everyone was so hot, that we just kept on shooting and kept on shooting. We were fortunate to make a lot of shots."
The Huskies handed out a season-high 21 assists, with Napier leading the way with eight.
The lopsided game gave Ollie a chance to dip deeper into his bench. Freshman Leon Tolksdorf (four points) hit his first field goal of the season and freshman Phillip Nolan (six points) also saw extended playing time.
With only two more games, including Friday against Fordham, prior to opening Big East play, Ollie is looking to develop some depth.
Despite the convincing win, Ollie wasn't about to overlook the fact that the Huskies were outrebounded (30-26) for the ninth time this season.
"We'll continue to try to shore that up," Ollie said. "But I will take 66 percent (shooting) and I will take a win."
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