John F. Silver
One day, Boatright sets up a hot shooting Napier to shoulder the scoring loads.
Napier watches Boatright get hot and then gets out of the way.
Then there are times that both put it together. That’s what happened in the first half against Fordham and it was a thing of beauty.
Boatright scored 26 points and added nine assists and Napier added 19 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals as the Huskies routed Fordham 88-73 at the XL Center.
UConn led by as many as 32 early in the second half before letting Fordham cut the lead to 13, but were never in danger.
The Huskies (9-2) did most of their damage in the first half as UConn exploded for 57 points by forcing 15 turnovers, 11 steals that turned into 21 points. The Huskies had 16 assists on their 21 first half basket as they built an astounding 57-28 lead.
The catalyst was Boatright, who scored 20 of his career-high in the first half with seven assists.
Boatright and Napier each had three first half steals and menaced Fordham to what seemed likes turnovers every time down the floor.
Overall, the Huskies forced 21 turnovers in the win, came up with 15 steals and scored 35 points off turnovers. It starts in the backcourt with Boatright and Napier locking down their defenders.
“Whenever we come with the defensive intensity that we had in the first half we are going to cause trouble. We get up in you, are fast and can move our feet. When me and Shabazz come out like that it will be tough.”
The play of Boatright in that first half was especially encouraging. The sophomore guard was 5 of 18 in the final two games before exams break but had 21 points on 8 of 10 shooting against Maryland-Eastern Shore on Monday. He added 26 points on 9 of 14 shooting against Fordham.
Boatright was 4 of 6 in the opening minutes and scored nine points as he helped stake the Huskies to an 18-15 lead.
“I came out aggressive and took what the defense gave me and made my jump shots,” Boatright said. “I have been in the gym focusing on my jump shot and its really paying off.”
The Huskies led 18-15 at the under 12 timeout before embarking on an explosive 39-13 run to end the game. An 11-0 run over three minutes off that timeout was capped by an R.J. Evans 3-pointer and the Huskies were never threatened again.
Boatright was in his zone in the first half hitting jumper off the break as steals led to layups and open 3s in transition.
The ease at which Boatright scored was fun to watch.
“He’s playing good basketball,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “He’s getting the ball in his spots. He’s shooting the ball particularly well. He’s been going a lot of extra shooting. We want him to catch the ball and not hold it too much. We want him to hoot or catch and get out on the break and continue to do the different things he’s been doing.”
With Boatright scoring, it opened up things for Napier and Omar Calhoun as the high-scoring trio continue to dominate the points for the Huskies. Calhoun added 13 of his 17 points in the first half and added three 3-pointers. The three-guard backcourt accounted for 62 of the Huskies’ 88 points.
The Huskies had 16 assists on 21 baskets in the first half.
“We were shooting the ball particularly well,” Ollie said. “ We were getting in gaps, we were making them shift from side to side, we were moving the ball: It was beautiful to watch.”
The Huskies led 57-28 at the half and then inexplicably didn’t show up fro the second half.
Fordham cut a 63-31 lead to 63-50 with a stunning 19-0 run early in the second half that stunned Ollie. Evans ended the run with a driving layup, and the Rams never got closer than 13, but considering the lead it was still too close for Ollie’s comfort.
The Huskies were out-rebounded by Fordham heavily in the second half and that inability to secure the ball continues t bother Ollie, as did the effort.
“We played the scoreboard and we relaxed instead of just going full speed at them and continuing to do what we did that made us have that run in the first half,” Ollie said. “We stopped playing basketball, stopped sharing the basketball and stopped rebounding and stopped doing the different things that go us the lead.”
The Huskies have shown glimpses of stellar play. On Friday night it showed an entire half.
If they can put 40 minutes of effort like that the Huskies will be trouble in the Big East come in the New Year.