UConn atones for poor start to league play with impressive win at Memphis
To defeat upper-echelon teams in the American Athletic Conference, UConn needs other scorers to ease the burden on star Shabazz Napier and its unheralded frontcourt to hold its own in the paint.
Both those things happened Thursday night in Memphis. As a result, the Huskies secured one of their most noteworthy victories of the season.
UConn upset 17th-ranked Memphis 83-73, an enormous victory for a Huskies team that inspired doubts when it lost to Stanford at home last month and opened league play with losses to SMU and Houston. Subsequent wins over Harvard, Central Florida and Memphis have served as reminders that UConn (14-3, 2-2) may be erratic but it's also capable of competing with just about anyone when playing well.
One of the keys to UConn's success Thursday night was talented but enigmatic Deandre Daniels lighting up Memphis for 23 points on 9 of 15 shooting from the floor and 4 of 5 shooting from behind the arc. The production from Daniels and guard Lasan Kromah (13 points) was critical with Omar Calhoun still struggling to emerge from his lengthy funk and Ryan Boatright enduring an off night.
Also critical for UConn was its oft-criticized frontcourt not allowing Memphis to control the paint for most of the game. Yes, Amida Brimah fouled out with the game still in doubt and the Tigers corralled too many offensive rebounds, but Daniels was brilliant and the rest of the big men played solid defense, all that can be asked of a group that too often is a liability.
The strong play from his supporting cast enabled Napier to do what he does best and close out the victory. Eight of Napier's 17 points came in the final 5:03 as UConn turned a 62-62 tie into a comfortable victory. The All-American candidate also finished with 10 assists, four rebounds and two steals.
The loss was discouraging for a Memphis team that has sandwiched home losses to UConn and Cincinnati around an impressive road win at Louisville. The Tigers have the talent to contend for the league title, but they're clearly still searching for consistency.
UConn would also benefit from greater consistency, but the Huskies are starting to find their stride.
Youthful Indiana was reliant on freshmen and sophomores still adjusting to new roles when it lost to UConn in November. Harvard and Florida were both shorthanded as a result of some key injuries when the Huskies beat them.
But Memphis has no such excuses. In its most impressive performance of the season, UConn beat the Tigers at full strength on their home floor.