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    UConn Men's Basketball
    Wednesday, May 22, 2024

    Huskies survive an early test

    Ryan Boatright celebrates during the second half of UConn's season-opening 66-53 victory over Bryant on Friday night at Gampel Pavilion. The senior guard finished with 24 points to lead the Huskies.

    Storrs - Fond memories of UConn's national championship season came flooding back during the pregame ring ceremony Friday night.

    The Huskies had one last chance to celebrate before opening the regular season against Bryant University at Gampel Pavilion.

    "That was big," sophomore Terrence Samuel said. "I got a flashback what it took for us to get there and just the experience itself."

    Then Bryant knocked UConn into the present.

    The feisty Bulldogs took a six-point lead at halftime and extended it to nine on the first possession of the second half.

    No. 17 UConn responded like a champion, displaying heart, hustle and intensity to roar back for a 66-53 victory.

    "It's a new year, definitely," senior Ryan Boatright said. "It took a lot of hard work."

    Boatright played the starring role, filling the void left by the departure of All-America guard Shabazz Napier, who rescued the Huskies countless times last season. He scored 16 of his game-high 24 points in the second half and also finished with eight rebounds, five assists and four steals overall.

    The Huskies followed their leader and avoided the upset.

    "In the second half, we showed our resilience and showed our toughness," coach Kevin Ollie said. "We're grinders. That's all we know. … It was a collective effort in the second half. We needed that game."

    Tenacious defense fueled the comeback, holding Bryant to just 27 percent after halftime and 34 percent overall. Junior center Amida Brimah was an intimidating presence under the basket, finishing with 12 points, five rebounds and five blocks while altering several others. Active sophomore Kentan Facey helped UConn control the boards, grabbing a career-best 11 rebounds.

    The Huskies also eventually found their offensive rhythm, shooting 63.6 percent in the second half.

    "You saw a high degree of intensity in the second half from the Huskies because, obviously, it would have been very embarrassing to lose on your home court to a team from the (Northeast Conference) that's only in its third year in Division I," Bryant coach Tim O'Shea said.

    "They really came after us pretty good."

    Still, until the final nine minutes, the Huskies were locked in a fierce battle. The score stood deadlocked at 45-all before they seized control.

    Boatright fueled the charge. He stripped the ball from Shane McLaughlin and took off on a one-man fast break, finishing with a dunk to give UConn the lead for good, 47-45 with 8:47 left. The play sparked a decisive 16-4 spurt.

    "Once I got a few (steals) and a few dunks, everybody's intensity picked up and then the game just went our way," Boatright said. "I'm doing anything and everything to win the game."

    Next, Brimah made a nifty spin move and converted a reverse dunk. Then Boatright nailed a 3-pointer and Samuel fed Facey for alley-oop dunk. Sam Cassell Jr. buried a wide-open 3-pointer in the corner for a 57-47 edge with 4:11 left.

    The Huskies kept hustling to the finish.

    With about a minute and a half left, Boatright tipped the ball away and dove on the floor to recover it. His pass started a fast break that led another Brimah fast break dunk.

    "Everything starts with him," Facey said of Boatright. "He gives us confidence and we have his back. He is always going to be the one to get us going."

    Boatright received a nice surprise during warmups, as his mother, Tanesha, made the trip to Storrs from Aurora, Ill. He also enjoyed getting his championship ring,

    "Seeing my mom is always a good thing for me," Boatright said. "Getting that ring was like nothing else. I put a lot of work in all my life to experience something like that, so it felt good."

    Fortunately for the Huskies, Tanesha Boatright's visit was the only surprise Friday night.

    UConn played shorthanded, missing junior Omar Calhoun (knee) and starter Rodney Purvis, who served a one game suspension for violating an NCAA rule regarding summer basketball league participation.

    g.keefe@theday.com

    Twitter: @GavinKeefe

    UConn's Sam Cassell Jr. drives past Bryant's Dan Garvin (22) during Friday night's game in Storrs, where the Huskies opened their season with a 66-53 victory.

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