John F. Silver
UConn trailed by as many as 14 against Pittsburgh in the second half before tying the game up. But, the Panthers made enough plays down the stretch to hold on.
Lamar Patterson scored 14 points and Tray Udall 13 as Pittsburgh held off UConn 69-61 on Saturday.
The Huskies were led by a furious second half comeback from Ryan Boatright, who scored 20 points including 14 in the second half. Omar Calhoun added 14 for the Huskies. UConn’s leading scorer Shabazz Napier played despite a left shoulder injury, but it clearly affected his aggressiveness scoring eight points on 2 of 7 shooting.
The Huskies were dominated in the first half and trailed 35-22 at the break before rallying in the second half. Pittsburgh led by as many as 14 but Niels Giffey steal and dunk tied the score at 55-55 with 4:17 left.
“It was just about us being aggressive. We were rebounding, hitting, and being aggressive. We had some shots fall that came off of our penetration, us getting steals, and us getting layups,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said. “It was just all aggressive things that we need to do to win. We’re not a talented group in the sense that we can go out individually and try to win. We have to do it as a collective group, play hard, and do all the small things, such as sacrificing your body. We didn’t do that in the first half and it was an embarrassment. In the second half we came out and played. I’m proud of them for coming back, but at the end of the game we needed some stops. We let Pitt score on us in four out of their last five possessions. We can’t let a game be that imbalanced.”
Pittsburgh answered with a Tray Woodall 3-pointer but Boatright countered with a three-point play to tie the game at 58-58.
James Robinson then sunk a 3-pointer for a 61-58 lead and the Huskies never tied the game back up. UConn’s DeAndre Daniels hit 1 of 2 free throws and Pittsburgh’s Dante Taylor hit a pair of free threes after being fouled by Enosch Wolf 35 feet from the basket for a 63-59 lead.
The Huskies went cold the final four minutes and didn’t have a single field goal as the Panthers ended the game on a 11-3 run.
UConn couldn’t dig out of the first half funk as it was dominated on the boards by Pittsburgh and shot only 7 of 21 from the floor. The Huskies rallied in second half behind Boatright.
“In the first half my shot wouldn’t fall,” Boatright said. “If your shot isn’t falling, you try to get to the basket. In the second half I was just trying to get to the basket. It was wide open so I just continued to do it the rest of the game.”
Napier’s injury was a factor. The junior guards eight points and inability to create plays hurt the offense, particularly in the first half. Napier struggled to use his left arm.
“I couldn’t dribble with my left hand,” Napier said. “I tried to get to the middle and drove with my left at the end of half time but it hit my arm resulting in a turnover. I’m usually able to fix that contact and get a shot up but I wasn’t able to dribble with my left hand.”
The Huskies fall to 12-5, 2-3 in the Big East and will have to wait a weak before hosting Rutgers at Gampel Pavilion. Pittsburgh is now 15-4, 3-3 in conference.