STORRS, Conn. — After guard Shabazz Napier had his final glorious moment in a Connecticut home uniform, and after the No. 19 Huskies won for the seventh time in eight games, UConn coach Kevin Ollie grabbed a microphone and thanked the crowd at Gampel Pavilion.
Ollie then went one step further, saying the Huskies would return to their campus facility “in April and raise a banner.”
That got everyone’s attention.
Napier hit a career-high seven 3-pointers and missed only five shots from the field on the way to a 26-point effort that led UConn to a 69-63 victory over Rutgers Wednesday night.
UConn did raise the NCAA championship banner in 2011, when Napier, guard Niels Giffey and forward Tyler Olander were freshmen. And they didn’t seem to mind that their coach publicly established that as their goal with one game remaining in the regular season.
“I think that’s just how he feels,” Napier said of Ollie’s bold statement. “You don’t want to shy away from it. Of course, everybody wants to get to that last game. Anybody can say that, but we’ve got to go out and continue to play hard. If he says it, I’m definitely going to back him up. That’s my coach.”
Napier was 8-for-13 from the field and 7-for-11 from 3-point range. The seven 3s were just two short of Ray Allen’s UConn record of nine.
Giffey, who added a career-high 16 points, was the only other player in double figures for UConn (24-6, 12-5 American Athletic Conference).
Guard Myles Mack led Rutgers (11-19, 5-12) with 16 points. Forward Wally Judge added 13 for the Scarlet Knights, who pulled within 67-63 in the final minute. A blocked shot by UConn forward DeAndre Daniels and an offensive foul on Rutgers’ Kadeem Jack allowed the Huskies to hold on.
UConn won despite not making a field goal in the final four minutes and 12 seconds of the game.
“We just had to keep getting stops,” Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said. “But we needed to break the ice. We needed to get a good possession and a great shot. We didn’t convert. You can’t turn the ball over.”
Daniels, who played only six minutes in the first half after picking up his second foul, scored UConn’s first basket after halftime and gave the Huskies a 36-33 lead. Napier, Giffey and Olander (four points) then celebrated Senior Night by scoring in succession to give the Huskies a 51-44 lead with 13:58 left.
The Huskies were still clinging to a 58-53 lead after Napier scored on a layup with 7:49 to play, but UConn’s defense opened the door to a bigger lead just one minute later.
“Rutgers played their type of game and they played their pace,” Ollie said. “But, at the end of the day, we made stops and we got a win.”
Turnovers by the Scarlet Knights on two consecutive possessions led to baskets and an 11-point lead for UConn. The Huskies’ perfectly executed a fast break after the first miscue and forward Phillip Nolan finished the play with a thundering dunk. After the next turnover, swingman Lasan Kromah made a nifty spin move in the lane and dished to Nolan for another dunk that put UConn on top 64-53.
“That was pretty much our downfall,” Jordan said.
The Huskies, who rank 23rd in the nation in 3-point field-goal percentage (38.9), shot 57.1 percent from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes, hitting eight of 14. Giffey was 3-for-6 and had 11 points.
Together, Napier and Giffey finished the game 11-for-18 on 3s.
“We’re the captains of the team,” Giffey said. “Who else is going to step up? As a senior, sometimes you’ve got to work with the emotions. We were pumped up for this game. It was easy to play. If one goes down, your ego blows up and you think you can hit every shot.”
Perhaps that is part of Ollie’s long-range plan as well. With good shooting and timely defense, UConn could go deep into the tournament.
“I have confidence in my guys and I have confidence we’re going to win every game,” Ollie said. “If you don’t believe it, you’re never going to have anything. … We’ve got a chance, so why not think
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