Senior point guard Shabazz Napier might be the engine that keeps UConn's offense running smoothly but, as coach Kevin Ollie said Thursday night, another senior, Niels Giffey, is the glue.
Five days after getting blown out by Louisville in the regular-season finale, the Huskies bounced back to trounce Memphis in the opening game of the American Athletic Conference Tournament, 72-53. And with the Tigers focused on shutting down Napier and guard Ryan Boatright, Giffey was often left unguarded, usually behind the arc, where he unceremoniously drained three after three.
I wanted to get Niels out there so he can spread the floor and give more space to our guards ...," Ollie said. "Niels made me look like I was a good coach. So, thank you, Niels."
The plan worked to perfection.
By the time it was over, Giffey had converted 6 of 8 from downtown and led all scorers with 24 points. DeAndre Daniels added 13, while Napier and Boatright each had 11.
Napier, who is close friends with Giffey, wasn't surprised by the scoring outburst.
"He's been the greatest shooter that we've had this whole year," the AAC Player of the Year said. "If you leave him open -- which is kind of astonishing. Coming into this, a lot of people in the country know Niels Giffey as a shooter. But the way they play defense, they double a lot and leave shooters open, and we're not afraid to pass the ball at all."
No. 21 UConn (25-7) earned the season sweep over No. 19 Memphis, a feat made more impressive because the inaugural AAC Tourney is taking place in -- you guessed it -- Memphis.
Afterwards, Tigers coach Josh Pastner called the loss embarrassing.
"We played not to lose," he said. "You can't win if you play not to lose. That was my whole halftime speech, the whole talk. `Guys, we're playing timid. We're looking like we're paralyzed out there. A lot of things we're doing, we've got a glaze over our eyes."
The Tigers shot just 26 percent from the floor (including 28 percent from behind the arc) and were outrebounded 36-35.
"We had to stick to certain points we were emphasizing," Giffey said. "That was rebounding and getting back in transition. I think we did that."
And now UConn will face Cincinnati in the AAC semifinals Friday at 9 p.m. ET.