STORRS, Conn. – Given all the circumstances, the 2012-13 basketball season could not have ended in a more perfect fashion for Connecticut. An overtime win over Providence was simply a microcosm of UConn's entire season.
Behind a game-high 23 points from Ryan Boatright, UConn (20-10, 10-8 Big East) was able to pull out a 63-59 victory in overtime against Providence (17-13, 9-9). It was the seventh time this season UConn had been extended to overtime – and that's a school record.
With the victory, UConn met a team goal with 20 wins and also posted a winning record in conference play – something the Huskies hadn't done in the Big East since 2008-09. And given the fact UConn was playing its final game in the that conference, that meant a little extra to everyone on the Huskies' bench.
"I'm sad that it's over with, but I'm very happy and satisfied with this team, what they gave me," said coach Kevin Ollie, who finished his first season as a head coach of the Huskies. "The resolve, the resilience they showed, the dedication they showed through the ups and downs, through all the changes. Me having a five-month contract, them sticking together through the pain. I always said there was going to be promise."
For Shabazz Napier, playing through the pain had a double meaning as he started in the game, despite his recent injury to his right foot. Napier, who missed the previous two games because of the injury, played 44 minutes against Providence.
"If I had to put a number on it, in the first half I was probably 75-80 [percent] and the second half it was down to just like 55 or 60," Napier said. "I was trying to work it up a little bit, but it was still throbbing."
Napier finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four steals. Without him, UConn would have only had six active scholarship players for the game. With him, UConn had its leader back on the floor.
UConn entered the final 45 seconds of overtime tied at 59. With 19 seconds remaining, Boatright nailed a fadeaway jumper while drawing a foul on Providence's Bryce Cotton. Boatright hit his free throw, completing the three-point play, and put the Huskies up 62-59.
"I put on a little hesitation, I knew he would bite on it a little bit to give myself the chance to dribble," Boatright said. "I knew once he would bite on it that I could get up in it a little in his chest because I knew he would foul me. I was lucky to get the separation I needed and got the shot off. Thank God the ref called it on him."
Boatright finished with 23 points, five assists and three rebounds. After Boatright made that play, Cotton missed a three-pointer on the next possession and Napier grabbed the rebound and was fouled instantly. Napier hit one of his two free throws, effectively securing the victory.
DeAndre Daniels finished with 19 points and eight rebounds and Phillip Nolan added two points and six rebounds in his first career start.
"Words can't describe how I felt personally," Boatright said. "Just seeing R.J. [Evans] being so happy . . . man, he came into this team this year being out of shape and not knowing nobody, he worked extremely hard to get his body right. R.J., he goes without being seen because this team, we wouldn't have done what we did without R.J. He's such a leader on the floor and off the floor."
Evans, who transferred from Holy Cross and joined the team this season as a graduate student, was the only UConn player on scholarship for the senior day ceremony. Although he did not score any points in 42 minutes, Evans finished with six rebounds, a block, a steal and an assist. Most important was his defense against Cotton, who was held to nine points on 4-of-13 shooting – well under his 20 point average.
Before the game, Evans addressed the team.
"I just told them that I was proud to be part of this team and that I loved them," Evans said. "We had been through so much stuff this year and we stuck through it, stuck together. And that we had one last chapter to write in our book and that was to beat PC. We really came together after that and had a good warm-up and that really helped us. The fact that we had our ace back today really helped us too."