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    UConn Men's Basketball
    Thursday, April 18, 2024

    This time Huskies have a happy ending

    UConn's Amida Brimah, right, blocks a shot by Florida's Jon Horford as Ryan Boatright, left, also defends during the second half of the Huskies' 63-59 win over the Gators on Saturday in Gainesville, Fla.

    Gainesville, Fla. - It's hard to overstate the value of Saturday's rousing comeback victory for UConn.

    Perhaps senior Ryan Boatright said it best.

    "This just saved our season," he said, "as long as we take care of business from here on out."

    UConn desperately needed a signature victory to add to its resume and got one by rallying from a 13-point second-half deficit to score a 63-59 over Florida at the O'Connell Center. It was the Huskies' biggest comeback in a win this season.

    Not even a hobbled Boatright could slow them down.

    "We came here saying that we must win this game," junior Omar Calhoun said. "We brought the intensity in the second half and won the game."

    Coach Kevin Ollie wrote one of his inspirational acronyms - PTI - on the board before the big non-conference game that featured two national semifinal combatants last April.

    Play through It.

    "I think they did that with heart and they did that with desire," Ollie said. "It was just a gutty performance. … They just played with a lot of passion."

    UConn (7-5) executed on both ends down the stretch, something it failed to do in tough losses to Texas, Yale and Temple. The Huskies converted from the foul line, making 17-of-20 overall, including six straight in the final 32.4 seconds to seal the game and silence the crowd.

    The game appeared to be following a familiar pattern for the Huskies, who struggled offensively against an opponent equally as desperate for a win. The deficit grew to 44-31.

    Then it was if the Huskies collectively said: Not this time.

    "We never lost faith," sophomore Terrence Samuel said. "We went down (13) and we didn't lose our heads. We kept our composure and made a run."

    They finally took their first lead when Rodney Purvis buried a 3-pointer with 5:33 remaining.

    His third straight 3-pointer with 3:25 left capped a 23-9 run and handed his team the lead for good, 57-54, with 3:25 left. He had nine of his 11 points after intermission.

    Tenacious defense fueled the rally, as shot-blocking center Amida Brimah helped close down the lane. The Gators (7-6) went over eight minutes without a field goal and misfired from the foul line, sinking just 8-of-20 overall.

    "The defense was remarkable," Ollie said. "Everybody was talking and communicating, and then the big fella was just controlling the paint. … The defense the last 11 minutes was some of the best defense that I've seen at UConn."

    The list of Husky Heroes stretched from Gainesville to Tampa, where they headed after the game for the next stop on their two-game road trip, playing at South Florida on Tuesday.

    The first significant development came during pre-game warmups when Boatright decided to play through the pain caused by a deep left thigh bruise. He missed the previous two days of practice.

    The tough-as-iron Boatright contributed a team-high 14 points, six rebounds and six assists in 39 minutes. He made four clutch free throws, two with 32.4 seconds left and two more with 3.2 remaining.

    "Heart, man," said Boatright on how he fought through his discomfort. "I just knew we needed a win. … I knew it could save our season. There was no way I was going to sit out."

    No way Ollie was going to take Boatright out of the game.

    "You all know me… I'm going to go out with my leaders," Ollie said. "From Shabazz (Napier) to Kemba (Walker) to Ryan, I have so much trust in those guys because we've been through so much together. … I'm going to go with my guns and he's my biggest gun in my holster."

    UConn's bench provided a huge lift. Samuel (10 points) and junior Omar Calhoun (12 points), who continued his recent surge, played vital roles and both finished with season-highs.

    The rejuvenated Huskies head back into American Athletic Conference play with a bit of a swagger and confidence.

    "Our whole team stepped up," Ollie said. "I'm just very proud of the guys. We needed this win and they gutted one out for UConn Nation."

    g.keefe@theday.com

    Twitter: @GavinKeefe

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