UConn notebook: Players praise sellout crowd

Kevin Ollie credited the UConn Huskies’ 65-64 buzzer-beating victory to heart. Niels Giffey said it wasn’t just the players on the court – including Shabazz Napier who nailed the game-winning shot at the buzzer – that contributed to the victory. He shared the wealth with the 10,167 fans who came out for the game, too.

“We just out hustled and out lasted them in the end,” said Giffey, who scored eight points off the bench. “They have a great team, they have tough players.

“In the end, we had like a sixth man on the team today because the fans were just amazing. They pushed us. I don’t think I’ve seen that yet, maybe one of the Syracuse games, but I haven’t experienced it yet.”

Teammate DeAndre Daniels, who added 14 points and tipped a rebound to Napier on the game winner, agreed.

“In the three years I’ve been here, that’s the best I’ve seen Gampel,” he said. “It was very loud. Without the fans, we wouldn’t be able to pull that game out.”

ALMOST A GATOR: Daniels could have easily been on the other side of Monday’s win. Florida coach Billy Donovan was a major player in recruiting Daniels, who spent a post-graduate year at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. following his high school career at Taft in Woodland Hills, Calif.

“I was very close to going there, I was very close to Billy Donovan,” Daniels said. “He’s a great coach and a great guy.”

Apparently, Donovan was unable to seal the deal once the Husky coaching staff got a hold of Daniels.

“When I talked to (Jim) Calhoun and Kevin Ollie I just thought this would be a better situation for me,” Daniels said.

NOT BIG MEN, NO WORRIES: The Huskies front court had a brutual night against the Gators. Tyler Olander and Phil Nolan (two points, one rebound) both fouled out, and Amida Brimah finished with three points and one rebound in 17 minutes.

Daniels finished as the Huskies’ leader in rebounds with seven, but Florida held a 34-26 edge overall. Florida center Patric Young finished with 17 points, which was more than half of the Gators’ 32 in the paint.

“That was a grown mans game with their bigs down low,” Daniels said. “Patric Young, he’s a great player, very strong and he played well tonight. He got a couple of our big guys in foul trouble, but we survived through adversity. When our bigs were out we just tried to box out and not let him get the ball in the post.

Napier said the Huskies knew Florida was going to be a handful for them inside, so they had to adjust their game.

“Coach Ollie told us during the game ‘we’re not going to win the rebounding battle,'” he said. “As you can see, we didn’t. But he told us we’ve got to find other ways to win.”

One solution was bombing away from the perimeter, where UConn was 11 of 24 on 3-pointers.

BITTER BILLY? Florida coach Billy Donovan was not a happy camper after losing to UConn.

Here’s a sample of his press conference:

On whether he was playing for a steal at the end and the final shot by Napier:

“I just watched it and that’s not what happened. We actually did a really good job. We talked about it the last couple days because I have a lot of respect for Napier at the end of games because I think he’s a big shot making guy and we actually did a really good job. We made the decision we were going to trap him and we got him to take a very difficult, off balance shot.

“The guy who won the game for them was DeAndre Daniels. He made an unbelievable tip out off balance which kept the ball alive. What we didn’t do, we had guys who were on Napier who ran to the rim to go defensive rebound. For Napier we needed to keep a guy there. But his shot was really luck due to the fact the ball was tipped to him. If it’s tipped anywhere else, it’s out.”

On Napier hitting a 3-pointer and being fouled by Dorian Finney-Smith to create a four-point play that gave UConn a 63-62 lead with :34 left:

“I was more disappointed in the possessions before where we are up by three. It was a four point play, but watching it on film there was no foul. But we had two opportunities to rebound the basketball, those two offensive rebounds hurt us. I was disappointed it that.”

On defending Napier late:

“With Scottie (Wilbekin) being out I didn’t think we could guard Napier at least for those three minutes, so we decided to play 1-3-1 zone and try to use our length. There wasn’t a good match on the floor for him, but I thought the last possession I just didn’t want him to penetrate the zone or for us to get spread out to much and give up a 3, so went man on just the last possession. We actually did a pretty good job of it.”


William Paxton