John F. Silver
It was an ugly affair in Hartford as the Huskies struggled scoring early in the second half. UConn’s first basket in the half didn’t come on a Ryan Boatright dunk 5 ½ minutes into the half ad after a Myles Mack layup with 11:19 left the score was tied at 32-32.
It was five points in the first 10 minutes of the second half, but the Huskies ended with a tear. UConn was 0 for 9 and 1 of 11 to begin the half shooting before ending by making 11 of 17 to pull away.
Niels Giffey’s steal and layup and one gave the Huskies 35-32 lead with just under 10 minutes left and it ignited the offense. Napier hit two consecutive 3-pointers and Boatright added another as the Huskies took a 44-37 lead with 6:59 to go.
Rutgers closed to three points at 46-43 on a pair of free throws from Eli Carter, but could get no closer. Napier hit two free throws and then DeAndre Daniels had a tip-in basket and a steal and dunk to make it 52-43 with 3:53 left.
Giffey’s steal and basket started the run.
“That one was crucial,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said of Giffey’s 3-point play. “And, then he went up strong. Niels is so athletic, and sometimes he goes in, but not with force. He went up with force…it really energized us and propelled us to a nice victory.”
Daniels finished with 13 points.
Napier rebounded from a 2 of 7 and eight points performance in a 69-61 loss to Pittsburgh playing through the pain of a left shoulder contusion. While he appeared to shy away from contact with the left shoulder — he corralled a rebound early in the game with only his right arm — he didn’t seem slowed by it. Napier hit big shots and played a marvelous floor game for the Huskies.
“It was more than just points today,” Ollie said. “It was his leadership. especially with Boatright getting into foul trouble. He had to play most of the point in the first half and he did a remarkable job…he makes timely shots, he makes winning plays. That’s why I love the kid.”
Napier said the shoulder bothered him just a bit on the shooting.
“I wasn’t thinking too much about the shoulder,” Napier said. “I was just excited about how well we were playing defense…some shots were too short or too strong because I was trying to figure out how to compensate with the pain a little bit.”
Jerome Seagears scored a career-high 21 points for Rutgers (12-7, 3-5). Rutgers committed 16 turnovers that led 14 UConn points.
“Our team continues to struggle with carelessness both offensively and defensively,” Rutgers coach Mike Rice said. “whether it’s 4 out of 5 possessions having a turnover– or careless with scouting reports, how we defend things and consistency. There are times this team is ready to break out of it and then there are times when we get in our own way.”
UConn was coming off an 8-day layoff and improved to 13-5 on the season, 3-3 in the Big East. The Huskies are at Providence on Thursday.