It feels like ages since UConn has had this many jumpers fall for them. The offense had been in a rut for so long now that it felt like a weight had lifted off their shoulders when Napier and Giffey began knocking down shots in the first half. The downside to hitting so many jumpers was that they went to the well one too many times and weren’t attacking the lanes or getting to the line. They only took 13 free throws and many of those were late when Rutgers had to foul. Eventually those jumpers weren’t dropping and without those vital points at the line, the offense dried up. Also credit Rutgers, they made a bunch of tough shots, banking in threes and turn around jumpers. They answered every UConn run with one of their own and kept the game within a couple of possessions. Once again UConn had a tough time making good decisions in late game situations and opened the door for Rutgers. Luckily they didn’t take advantage and UConn held on for the victory, but they can’t keep doing this and expect to win especially in a one and done situation.
Napier looked primed to put on a show for his last home game. His jumper that had eluded him for the past couple of weeks was dead on, hitting 8 of 13 from the field. Sometimes he falls in love with the jumper, especially if he knocks down a couple early and then he doesn’t get to the line. It wasn’t until midway through the second half that he got fouled heading to the basket. He’ll need to be much more aggressive heading into Louisville and beyond.
Be it coming off the bench or dealing with injuries, Boatright just didn’t look himself. He hit only two jumpers, had a few unforced turnovers, and took some ill-advised shots that had Napier chirping at him. This was the second game in a row that he has been riding the pine in crunch time in the second half. This team desperately needs him to return to form.
Daniels was in a funk all game. He hit an elbow jumper early but then had two quick fouls and sat out the rest of the first half. Other then an offensive rebound and hook shot, he was a non-factor offensively. His help defense was a little late, he missed badly on a dunk, had two costly turnovers, and an air ball. Despite all that, he did make a key block/tie-up to put Rutgers comeback hopes to bed, but like Boatright, UConn needs him to step up and be productive in the post to have a legitimate shot of heading deep into both tournaments.
Giffey had a fantastic senior day, hitting 6 of 9 from the field and 4 of 7 from deep. His defense was also impressive and came up with several deflections. Kromah also came out with tough defensive intensity. His offense wasn’t there for him and other than a lone 3-pointer, he struggled to get things going. Calhoun continues to search for answers to his game but at least he is still shooting instead of going into a shell. Samuel has been impressive in his late season run to get more minutes. He pushed the ball hard and got a coast-to-coast lay-up and is always looking up the court to reward the players running hard.
Olander got the start and started the game out strong with a block, rebound, and a steal. He battled hard and had a nice tip-in. Brimah had a nice one-handed rebound and a couple of blocks, but struggled handling the basketball. Nolan has to have taken the most charges on this team and provided UConn with two more. On top of that he had two back-to-back dunks. Facey got some playing time in the first half but struggled to defend without fouling. This unit provided just 9 points and 7 boards in 43 minutes. Not good.
This game was a step forward offensively but a step back defensively and on the boards. The frontcourt desperately needs to step up and rebound, Daniels, Boatright, and Calhoun all need to return to form, and the rotation on defense needs to be much crisper. It is really amazing if you think about it that UConn sits where they are in the conference standings since they started 0 and 2, especially since this is one of the best conferences in the NCAA. Be proud of this team and of Napier, Olander, Kromah, Watts, and Giffey. These seniors stuck through some turbulent waters to help right this program and keep itself in good hands. For that this program should always have a warm embrace for them.