Connecticut beats West Virginia 71-67 in OTBy JIM O'CONNELL, AP Basketball Writer Wednesday, Mar 7, 2012
Shabazz Napier scored 26 points and Jeremy Lamb added 22 to lead the Huskies to their 13th straight postseason win, 71-67 in overtime over the Mountaineers on Wednesday in the second round of the Big East tournament.
The victory kept alive the hopes of a second straight Big East title for the Huskies (20-12), who won a record five games in as many days last year and then went on to win six more in earning the school’s third national championship.
“I don’t think it can happen again, but then again, I said it could never happen in the first place,” Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. “Would we like to give it a shot? Yeah. We’re just going to try to play tomorrow’s basketball game to take it where it may.”
Ninth-seeded Connecticut will play top-seeded and second-ranked Syracuse in the quarterfinals Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
The last time these schools met in the quarterfinals was 2009 when Syracuse prevailed 127-117 in six overtimes. They met last year in the semifinals, a 76-71 Connecticut win that went just one overtime.
“We’re thinking about we’re playing one of the best, in my opinion along with Kentucky, the best team in the country tomorrow,” Calhoun said.
Kevin Jones had 25 points for the eighth-seeded Mountaineers (19-13), who were playing their last game as a member of the Big East. West Virginia leaves the conference for the Big 12 next season.
“It’s been a good run. We’ve enjoyed it, most of it anyway,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said of the school’s 17 seasons in the Big East. “There’s nothing like coming to the Garden to play in the tournament.”
Napier, who fouled out with 2:35 left in OT, scored all the points in a 9-0 run that brought the Huskies even at 63 with 2:10 left in regulation. He capped the run with consecutive steals at midcourt from Gary Browne and went in for layups on both.
Napier had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation, but after dribbling away near midcourt with a few seconds left, his NBA-length 3-point attempt went off the rim.
Connecticut dominated the overtime as the Mountaineers missed all 11 shots from the field.
“We were down by nine with 3 minutes, 40 seconds left. We dug down deep,” Napier said. “We have everything to lose so why not go out there and give it your all? … Everybody just went out there and played as hard as we can, win or lose.”
Lamb, who had 25 points in the opening-round win over DePaul, broke the game’s final tie with a 3-pointer with 1:04 left. Ryan Boatright had two chances to add to Connecticut’s lead and made one of four free throws. The one he hit made it 71-67 with 19 seconds left and West Virginia missed three 3-point attempts, trying to draw a possible foul that would give it a chance to tie the game.
Last year’s 11-game winning streak was coordinated by guard Kemba Walker, who is now with Charlotte in the NBA. Napier and Lamb both gave performances that were sure to stir memories of what Walker did last season.
Nobody in the Connecticut locker room is thinking about Walker right now.
“This is not Kemba Walker,” Calhoun said. “Kemba is making a lot of money, just built a house, doing great.
“Is it magical? No, it’s just us. It’s just us understanding each other, how much we can benefit if we give all we have and I think we have.”
The Huskies are 3-0 since the return of Calhoun, who missed eight games with spinal stenosis and the Huskies won just three of those. He had back surgery Feb. 27.
West Virginia dominated the rebounding against Connecticut finishing with a 47-31 edge, including 26-8 on the offensive end. The Mountaineers, however, shot just 34.7 percent overall and made only three of 19 3-point attempts.
The Huskies shot 49 percent from the field, including 7 of 18 from 3-point range with Napier making 4 of 10 and Lamb 3 of 8.
“Their frontcourt dominated the game for most of the game,” Calhoun said. “Our backcourt held its own and then took over and won the game for us.”
Jones, who led the Big East in scoring (19.0) and rebounding (10.9), had 10 rebounds, one less than Dominique Rutledge.
“It’s just a little bit of disbelief and disappointment,” Jones said. “My team played their hardest. We didn’t make the correct decisions at the end. We didn’t hold onto the ball. They stole it, two turnovers for layups that they really didn’t earn.”
West Virginia expects to hear its name called Sunday when the NCAA tournament field is announced.
“We’ve played more games against top 100 teams than anybody in the country. They say play a tough schedule, we have,” Huggins said. “We’ve done everything they’ve asked us to except maybe win a couple games.”