Senior point guard Shabazz Napier scored a career-high 34 points Saturday in UConn's overtime win against No. 20 Memphis, the latest milestone in an impressive college career that is heeded down the homestretch. Junior guard Ryan Boatright added 21 points -- eight coming in overtime -- and sophomore big man Phil Nolan had one huge rebound at the end of regulation that kept the Huskies' alive.
"You have got to have guards in this game," coach Kevin Ollie said. "We have some terrific bigs and Memphis has some terrific bigs, but at the end of the day, the guards can make so much happen on the perimeter and break defenses down."
That explains why Napier, who leads the team in points, assists and rebounds, found himself on the Naismith midseason watch list for the country's best player.
"He's a great player," Ollie said of Napier. "He's an All-American player. I know I might be biased, but he's the best guard in America, to me, hands down. He just keeps focusing in on the things we need to do to win. He knows when it's time to take over the game, or when to get DeAndre in the game, get Boat in the game. He's just a heady basketball player."
And on Boatright, Ollie added: "He might not be shooting well, but I can never question his heart and his effort and his enthusiasm to win...Ryan has one of the biggest hearts I've ever been around...It showed today at the end of the game."
And then there was the 6-10, 212-pound Nolan, who was tasked with battling with all 240 pounds of Memphis' Shaq Goodwin.
Goodwin was held to seven points and six rebounds in 44 minutes but Nolan's biggest contribution in the final seconds of regulation when his offensive rebound set up Napier's game-tying three-point play.
"I like that offensive rebound by Phil Nolan," Ollie said, via the Hartford Courant. "I like offensive rebounds. Shabazz [Napier] shot, Phil went and got the basketball. We got outrebounded, but that was big, rebounding the ball. And then, you guys probably didn't see it, Philly, set a great screen for 'Bazz tro get open. That's all Philly, getting him open. And Shabazz will tell you that."
Which is pretty much what Napier did.
"Philip definitely came in and took care of his minutes," Napier added. "He played Shaq to the best of his abilities. He's one of our best pick-and-roll defenders. He hard-hedges really well and he likes to talk all the time on the court. When we get him the ball he does his best."
The Huskies will likely move up a few spots from their No. 24 national ranking but the bigger story is that this team appears to be coming together at the right time. They've won six of their last seven with six regular-season games to go. Next up: The Huskies travel to Temple this Thursday.