John F. Silver
The exiting crowd at the XL Center gave a mock cheer. There were 51 seconds left in the game and those were Boatright’s first points of Saturday’s Big East game against Villanova.
The vexed sophomore guard then started to pressure the ball. With the game ticking down he came up with a steal and layup with a foul with six seconds left.
Boatright went to the line, missed the free-throw, and then watched as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
Way too little. Way too late.
Villanova stopped whatever momentum UConn had coming out of Wednesday’s win over Syracuse defeating the Huskies with a 70-61 win.
Boatright had a nightmare of an outing at the XL Center against Villanova (16-10, 7-6 Big East). The explosive guard couldn’t buy a hoop, sometimes missing so badly the crowd gasped at the attempts.
His numbers reflected the performance for the Huskies (17-7, 7-5 Big East). In 31 minutes Boatright had four points – all in the final minute – on 2 of 7 shooting with one assist, five turnovers and one rebound. Everything Boatright touched turned to dust.
His plus/minus in the game was -21.
Boatright didn’t have to be told those numbers. When he missed the free throw and the clock ticked to zero Boatright pulled his uniform over his head and muttered some words into the shirt.
What a difference a couple of days make. On Wednesday night Boatright was in the crowd celebrating a season-defining win over rival Syracuse. On Saturday he couldn’t buy a basket or a foul and looked as lost and confused as any game he’s played in his nearly two years in Connecticut.
He wasn’t the only one to struggle. His running mate Shabazz Napier had only two points, was plagued by foul trouble in the first half and was 1 of 8 shooting as he never got into a rhythm.
There is a difference between Boatright and Napier’s game however. Napier, even when he isn’t scoring, has an effect on the game that bears through on the fact he had 10 assists and set the tempo. Napier, for all his struggles scoring, was a +2 in the plus/minus department.
Napier has an effect on the game even when he isn’t scoring with his passing, defense and court generalship. Boatright came into UConn as a scorer and when he’s off – as all players are prone to do – has difficulty impacting the game.
That’s the one element of Boatright’s game that needs development.
“You got to give yourself up for the team. Most players don’t how to do that yet,” Napier said after the loss. “I wasn’t able to score, I tried my best on defense and passing the ball and doing things I know I am capable of doing if I wasn’t able to score. (Boatright) has to learn that.You have to find other ways to be productive. I learned that my freshman year with Kemba (Walker) as a scorer and I was a defensive player. (Boatright) didn’t have a chance to learn that, he came in here trying to score.”
Napier then defended his running mate. “Everyone has bad games, he wasn’t the reason we lost,” Napier added. “He tried his best out there.”
Shutting down Boatright and Napier is something that many teams have tried but few have done to Villanova’s effectiveness.
The Huskies’ starting guards, who combine for a shade over 33 points a game combine for six points.
“(Villanova) just played good defense,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “They played good gap defense. We had to move the ball against them, get in our cracks. And then we have to hit some shots. But we couldn’t get out in transition because of offensive rebounds. If you keep us in the half court game, you can’t bottle the two up, but most of the time they’re getting out in transition and that’s what gets them their lay ups, that’s what gets them their threes. And then they get confidence, and make some plays in the half court. But when you give up 20 offensive rebounds, of course you can’t run like you want to run”
The Huskies can pin the loss on that rebounding disadvantage. Villanova held a 41-25 including 20 offensive rebounds that led to 20 Wildcats points.
That, and the Wildcats weren’t going to let Napier and Boatright beat them.
“There two guards, I think they are the key and we did a really good job on them,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Those two guards are two of the best in the country. I think doing the job on them is the key.”
Napier sat out much of the first half with two fouls, but did manage six assists in the first half as Ollie elected to play his point guard as the offense stalled without him on the floor. Napier’s first points came to begin the second half and it looked might it be another second half explosion. Napier has had a flare for the dramatic this season and has followed up low scoring halves with big ones.
“We were worried because Napier was in foul trouble and Boatright (hadn’t scored),” Wright said. “So, we’re like ‘we’re down three, and those guys haven’t go it going today.’”
There were no heroics this time. Napier tried to force the deal with his shots but couldn’t get those jumpers to go. Boatright? He was fighting an uphill battle all night. He missed his shots, started to press and force, and couldn’t get his offense going.
It happens to good scorers all the time. The key for the well-rounded player is to make a positive impact when the ball doesn’t drop through the net.
That’s still a work in progress.