UConn Pitches Complete Game

HARTFORD, Conn. – When Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier picks up a box score at the end of a game, the first thing he looks at is his turnover total.

"The crazy thing is that even though I look at it, I already know in my head. I knew I had four turnovers today," Napier said Saturday. "That's the only thing I ever keep in my head. I don't know how many points I got, how many assists I got. I had four [turnovers] today and I was upset. But we got the win though."

For the record, Napier led UConn (12-1, 2-0 Big East) with 17 points and almost had a double-double (nine assists) as the Huskies defeated Big East rival St. John's 83-69 before a sellout crowd of 16,294 Saturday at the XL Center. Playing their second consecutive game without suspended coach Jim Calhoun, the ninth-ranked Huskies put together one of their most complete games of the season.

UConn played outstanding defense, holding St. John's (7-6, 1-1) to 25 percent shooting in the first half and 16.7 percent (4-for-24) from three-point range for the entire game. The Huskies also had seven blocks and five steals.

Napier and Ryan Boatright (10 points, three assists) activated the alley-oop phase of the UConn's offense, lobbing the ball inside to Andre Drummond, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds for his third double-double in a UConn uniform.

And the sharing of the ball wasn't limited to the dunking festival. UConn had 21 assists on 29 baskets. Eight different players had at least one assist.

"I never even look at that," Napier said. "The coaches tell us that. I've got to get better with those. [But] yeah, that tells you a lot. The reason why we score is because of the assists, scoring on one-on-one plays. The team has to understand that. Once we all understand that and we spread the basketball around, we're going to be a dangerous team."

Actually, the Huskies looked pretty dangerous through the first 33 minutes of this game. They built a 38-25 halftime lead, shot 71.4 percent (15 of 21) in the second half alone, and led 70-47 after a jumper by Alex Oriakhi (six points, seven rebounds) with 7:13 left in the game.

Then they did that thing that has become a bit characteristic of UConn in 2011-12. They eased up enough that St. John's cut the lead to 11 with 2:48 left.

"We had a 23-point lead but that's kind of a story of what has gone on all year," UConn associate head coach George Blaney said. "The good part is it got down to 11 and we didn't let it go from there. We got it right back up to 15 or 16. I thought that was a good sign too."

It was hard for Blaney to find too much fault in the Huskies. And Napier was right about those 21 assists on 29 baskets. The coaches did notice.

"When you play against match-up [defense], if you bounce the ball a lot, the match-up can adjust to that," Blaney said. "If you pass the ball a lot, and we got it from one side of the court to the other – Tyler (Olander) hit two guys for great passes cross court – and obviously Jeremy can shoot the eyes out, that's what you want to do any time you can.

"We're still not doing enough when we get the ball in short corner with our bigs diving down a little bit more. We need to get that down a little bit better."

The official play-by-play sheet credited UConn with seven dunks, although it seemed like more.

"I would like to see them do it about 15 more times," Blaney said of throwing so many alley-oops. "And I would like to see Andre get in position to do it 15 more times. He's still learning how to get position."

The other odd thing for UConn was Lamb getting only nine shots, but that matches his season low and he has done it three other times. He did hit five of his shots and went 4-for-7 from three-point range. So his efficiency was very high.

But Blaney wants him more involved.

"I'm always disappointed when Jeremy doesn't get more shots," Blaney said. "He's trying to play within what we are doing. He gives it up a number of times. But he's such a threat. The other thing that happens is that [defenders] get so extended out to him, that that makes every other pass so much easier."

Said Lamb: "I had a lot of open threes. I just tried to knock them down. A couple of times I passed up shots I could have shot mid-range. It was an unusual game. And we had a big lead."

D'Angelo Harrison had 17 points to lead four Red Storm players in double figures. Moe Harkless, once a verbal commit to UConn, and God'sgift Achiuwa each had 16. Sir'Dominic Pointer had 14 points, including two highlight reel dunks for himself.

But St. John's took itself out of the game by taking so many threes.

"If you look at the film, they were wide open threes," acting head coach Mike Dunlap said. "We're trying to get better in that area. And with our youth, I think sometimes that would be a mixed message."

Dunlap used only seven players and the Red Storm was outscored 23-0 on bench points. Boatright, Olander (six points, three rebounds, one assist) and Niels Giffey (seven points, two assists and one steal in 14 minutes) gave the Huskies a lot of energy off the bench.

The UConn student section of the soldout crowd chanted "Happy New Year" as the clock ran down. And it was for Giffey, who didn't even play Wednesday against South Florida.

"It was nice [to contribute] because everyone else was happy for me too," Giffey said. "They know my position, and they know that I practice hard. It worked out for today."


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