Boatright carries UConn to win over USF
HARTFORD – Kevin Ollie had enough. Ryan Boatright had enough. And UConn’s fans, already on edge during this foul fest, were certainly restless.
The Huskies, against an undermanned USF team Sunday, were teetering on the brink of disaster, losing all but two points of a double digit lead at the halfway mark of the second half. A loss here may have all but ended their shaky hopes for a potential at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.
It was then that Ollie reinserted Boatright after a rest, looking for production, along with some leadership, as well.
He received both.
Boatright exploded, scoring UConn’s next 13 points en route to a career-high 28 and the Huskies rode his back to a 66-53 victory at the XL Center.
The win improves UConn to 11-7 and 4-2 in AAC play. Heading into this week, it was imperative for the Huskies to sweep this two-game homestand against the league’s Florida teams, two of the lesser squads in the conference. The Huskies did - albeit in sometimes ugly fashion.
On Sunday, the Huskies’ senior captain was the biggest reason for their triumph.
“We were playing the youngest team in America or whatever, and we were only up two points,” said Boatright, whose previous career-high was 26 against Fordham in 2012. “I told myself that when I come in the game, I’m going to be aggressive in the last nine minutes. And that’s what I did. They gave me shots, I created shots and I was able to knock them down.”
Boatright’s decisive run began with one of Amida Brimah’s five blocks, leading to a lay-up in transition. He then made two free throws and followed it with a jumper plus a foul.
On the next two possessions, Boatright hit threes on each, giving the Huskies a 54-43 cushion with 4:46 left and bringing the 14,105 to their loudest point of the afternoon.
He had a very efficient day shooting, finishing 7-of-10 from the floor, 4-of-5 from three, and 10-of-11 at the foul line. Boatright also finished with two knees wrapped in ice after the game, undoubtedly sore from all of his heavy lifting.
“Ryan stepped up when it was nip and tuck in the second half and scored 13 straight points for us. That’s what senior leaders are supposed to do, and that’s what he’s been doing the last two games,” Ollie said. “Ryan is a leader. He stepped up to the plate and came in with a little fire in his stomach because I wanted him to play a little harder. And I think that’s what he did.”
Ollie also received 17 points from Rodney Purvis, UConn’s only other scorer in double figures. Kentan Facey had a strong game as well, grabbing nine rebounds and the Huskies were a plus-20 during his 32 minutes on the floor.
USF (7-13, 1-6 AAC) was paced by Nehemias Morillo’s 18 points. The Bulls were missing starter Chris Perry, who missed the game after experiencing chest pains Saturday night.
UConn only finished with nine assists compared to 16 turnovers, an ugly ratio that concerns Ollie going forward.
“I do not like 16 turnovers, especially coming off one of our best games (eight turnovers and 21 assists against UCF),” he said. “We’ve got to do a better job with that, especially at Cincinnati. They’re going to pack it in and we’re going to have to make good decisions. We can’t turn it over 16 times going on the road.”
One potential saving grace for UConn is that the AAC Tournament will be held in Hartford this season. No, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Huskies go on a run before their home fans and win the tournament and an automatic NCAA berth. The team, however, is not focused on that fallback.
“In the last 12 games, we need to win all of them to get where we want to be,” Boatright said. “We can’t afford to blow any games. These two (wins) will help us and give us confidence to go on the road to Cincinnati. It’s a tough place to play, they’re a good team and we need to go in there and take care of business.”
Boatright’s outlook is very clear. Why?
“I did not come back to school to play in the NIT. At all.”
That was very evident down the stretch on Sunday.