Boatright Comes Through in Clutch

HARTFORD, Conn. – Just one year ago, in the opening game of his senior season at East Aurora High School, guard Ryan Boatright had what he called "a horrible night."

"And I hit two free throws at the end to seal the game," Boatright said. "Then I came back the next game and I broke a record. I scored 63. I learned from that right there."

Boatright not only learned that basketball lesson, he called on it Thursday night when No. 8 Connecticut (10-1) needed him to hit the biggest shot of the game. A crowd of 13,821 at the XL Center watched scrappy Fairfield (7-5) trim a 22-point second-half deficit to three with 2 minutes, 33 seconds remaining.

But with 1:19 remaining, UConn was back on top by six after Boatright (10 points) caught a pass from Shabazz Napier (24 points, 5 assists) and hit a wide-open three pointer that allowed the Huskies to escape with a 79-71 victory in their last game before the Big East season begins.

Up to that point, it had not been a great game for Boatright. If nobody had noticed, coach Jim Calhoun wasn't afraid to point it out after the game that Boatright had hurt the Huskies.

"He played awful tonight," Calhoun said. "He made a big play. It's the first game that I would say – for a really good player – he was awful. He was part of the problem when he came in. He read the scoreboard and thought it was time for us just to go [home]. . . . Being the competitor that he is, he makes a big shot to put the game away."

As much as the situation deteriorated for the Huskies, it could have been worse. With UConn ahead 72-69, Fairfield's Rakim Sanders (20 points) stepped to the free throw line with 1:39 left and had every intention of making the Huskies sweat a little more. On two of the previous three possessions, Sanders had practically laughed in the face of Roscoe Smith's defensive effort and scored on big-time moves to the basket.

"Everybody had confidence in each other," Sanders said. "In the first half, some people hesitate in making some passes. But in the second half, everybody was loose and just had confidence that the next person would hit the shot or make the next play."

The Huskies had that confidence in the first half when they shot 54.5 percent on the way to a 46-26 halftime lead. But as Calhoun pointed out, the Huskies stopped playing when they saw that 57-35 lead. It wasn't just Boatright.

"Whatever it was, we lost whatever mojo we had and they picked it up," said Calhoun, who was coaching his last game before serving a three-game suspension imposed by the NCAA.

Sanders missed the front end of his one-and-one opportunity with 1:39 left. Smith grabbed the rebound and 20 seconds into running through the offense, Boatright hit the shot that suddenly meant winning or losing.

"I just knew I had to stay in it," Boatright said. "We needed ball handlers and I was going to be in the game. And if I was going to be in the game, I needed to capitalize. There wasn't any point in me being out there if I wasn't going to play.

"It was wide open, the shot clock was going down. I was in rhythm, I just took it and I knocked it down. I've been in a lot of tough situations in my life and I know how to deal with them at times. I'm still young. I'm a freshman and I make mistakes. I know I can play way better than I did. But at the end of the day, it's all about winning. I just wanted to do what I had to do to get the win for my team."

Boatright's teammates kept encouraging him.

"I always look at the Carmelo [Anthony] commercial," said guard Jeremy Lamb, who had 18 points on 7 of 9 shooting. "It shows him in the gym, then it flashes to him in the game, then to the gym and to the game. And he says, ‘Why not take the shot because I've taken it before.'

"Just having the confidence that you can make that shot because you know the work you put in, is what you get out. Boatright was having a tough game, but he hit a big shot. He's in the gym with me at night. He's taken those shots before and he had the confidence to make it."

Andre Drummond's first half was something to behold. He started and played 18 minutes. During that time he hit 5 of 6 shots and scored 10 points. He had eight rebounds and seven were on the defensive end. He also had four steals that led to some impressive breakaway dunks.

But he was inflicted with the same second-half lack of effort and finished with 16 points, nine rebounds, four steals and two blocks.

"We've been trying to work on our killer instinct and just like stomp on teams, just to get that extra push," Drummond said. "We just slowed down a little bit [in the second half]. We weren't pushing the ball as much anymore. That's what killed us a little bit."

All the pregame hype centered on brothers Ryan and Tyler Olander facing each other for the first time. But with about 30 family members and friends sitting together in their "FairConn" shirts, neither player made much of an impact.

Ryan, Fairfield's starting center, had eight points and eight rebounds. He also had an emphatic block of Tyler and dunked over his brother. Tyler came off the bench for UConn, seemed out of his element most of the night and finished with two points and two rebounds in 16 minutes.

"I tried to treat it as another game as much as I could," Ryan Olander said. "But it isn't always easy. It was exciting, but I'm kind of glad that it's over now and we can move on to the next game."

After this game, just about everyone shared that sentiment.


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