Connecticut's Shabazz Napier (13) drives past Rutgers' Kadeem Jack (11) during the second half of Connecticut's 69-63 victory in an NCAA college basketball game in Storrs, Conn., Wednesday, March 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Fred Beckham)
It only made sense that senior point guard Shabazz Napier would lead the Huskies to Wednesday night's win over Rutgers, in the final home game of his career. The Roxbury, Mass., native scored 26 points, including a career-high seven 3-pointers. Senior Niels Giffey added career-high 16 points and with the the 69-63 victory in front of 10,167 at Gampel Pavilion, the 19th-ranked Huskies ran their winning streak to three games and moved to 24-6 on the season and 12-5 in the American Athletic Conference.
Before the game, the seniors were honored on the court with their families.
"I want to thank my seniors for providing me with loyalty, for providing this program with faith," coach Kevin Ollie said. "They could've left, they could've transferred, they could've done a lot of things. But they said, 'We're going to stay through the tough times and get back to where we belong. They kept this program alive, and I owe them a lot. I can never repay them for what they gave me — a chance to coach them. It's been a blessing."
A year ago at this time, the Huskies' season was done because NCAA sanctions kept them out of the conference and NCAA tournaments. This time, though, things are just getting started.
"The guys thought I was going to be the first to cry," Napier said, "but it wasn't like last year, when I knew it was going to be our last game."
Senior center Tyler Olander, who had twice been suspended by Ollie, also weighed in.
"We've been through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows," he said. "It wasn't the way you dream it, but I wouldn't trade a minute of it. This group is so special, the friendships we've made will carry on way past this, way past basketball. I'm sad to say goodbye to Gampel, to the fans who gave their all. They're out there waiting in the cold all winter just to see you play. I wish I could tell them more how much I miss them. Playing in Gampel is unbelievable."