Sunday, March 23, 2014
Just like the first half, Villanova came out on fire and began drilling 3-pointers, but UConn responded back and both teams traded baskets. That was until Napier took over and began draining shots from near halfcourt. UConn built up a double digit lead and held on for dear life as the Wildcats desperately tried to claw their way back, but UConn used timely shots and spot-on free throw shooting to hold on to the victory. Despite Napier’s output, this was a total team victory and credit should be sprinkled around to Boatright, Daniels, Samuel, Giffey, and Kromah.
It was a frustrating first half for Napier. He found himself in early foul trouble with only four points and had to sit the majority of the first half on the pine. He tried to force the issue when he finally got back into the game and he took a few bad shots and had some sloppy turnovers but then began to heat up. He hit a fade-away jumper and three 3-pointers before banging his shin while trying to shake his defender. UConn fans held their collective breath as he writhed on the ground and then limped off. He eventually came back in and made a lay-up and hit 1 of 2 from the line. This was a gutty performance and adds to his growing legacy here at UConn.
Boatright had one of his best performances in a long time. He had three lay-ups and was finally able to get the ball to drop around the rim. He played great defense all game long and despite some bad fouls, he was trouble for Villanova’s guards. This was a glimpse of UConn’s future without Napier next season and Boatright showed he can handle the assignment. This is a different team when he is attacking and making plays around the basket.
Daniels did a little of everything in this game. He hit three 3-pointers and a had lay-up, but his biggest contribution was on the boards and on defense. He battled hard around the paint and did all the little things that a team needs to pull off a big time game like this one. He is still rushing shots in the paint, but he is taking the ball to the basket if he is singled up on a defender which is what he needs to do.
Giffey was the glue guy. He didn’t make a 3-pointer all game, but he made several steals and deflections, while also battling hard on the boards. He also played really good defense. Kromah finally had a bounce back game, hitting two much needed 3-pointers, a lay-up, 3 steals, and went 4 of 4 from the line. Samuel had a breakout performance and without his solid play this game might have had a different outcome. He hit a floater, a lay-up, and went 3 of 4 from the line. He did have a horrible flagrant foul late in the first half, but he helped break Villanova’s press and made the right plays when Napier was on the bench. There can’t be enough credit for this group here. Giffey, Kromah, and Samuel might not have had an explosive offensive output but they all made the necessary support to Napier and Boatright to carry this team to the victory.
Brimah had a quiet game though he had a few big time blocks and a dunk, but Ollie decided to go small in this game and he wasn’t used as much. Nolan got an early charge call and had a hustle tie-up, but like Brimah, he had a quiet game with how Villanova stretches the court with their big men. They still did a solid job of keeping the Wildcats off the offensive glass.
This was a true team win. Boatright showed leadership and Samuel matured in front of everyone’s eyes. This team has it rolling pretty good right now. Their jumpers are dropping and the defense is doing a great job of getting consecutive stops. They’ll have a bit of a break before playing in Madison Square Garden and hopefully it won’t put a damper on their hot shooting because if they can hit their outside shots then they can hang with any team left in this tournament. The young players on this team are maturing at just the right time and this team is gelling into something special. The competition starts to heat up from here on out and they can’t have these slow starts to the halves and expect to win, but with the way Napier, Boatright, and Daniels are playing right now, I like my chances.