HARTFORD, Conn. --Ryan Boatright just missed a free throw that could have clinched the game and saw Cincinnati go down and tie the score in the American Athletic Conference quarterfinals
The Huskies need to run the table to get into the NCAAs and Boatright was about to be the goat. Boatright couldn't believe he missed the free throw. After Cincinnati tied the score with 13.4 seconds left, he went back to the bench and thought to himself something simple.
"I told myself --'I'm not going out like that,'" Boatright said. "We going to take this last shot and I'm going to make it."
Boatright didn't go out a goat. He put on another highlight reel play as his 3-pointer from the right win with 0.2 seconds left sent the Huskies into the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament with a 57-54 win at a raucous XL Center. It was Boatright's 18th point of the game, right around his average and carried the Huskies forward.
"I wanted to put the ball in his hands," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "He deserved it."
It was a nearly perfect final 13.4 seconds for the Huskies. That was the time it took for him to get the inbounds pass and come off a screen from Daniel Hamilton.
Boatright is listed at 6-0 by UConn but is hard pressed to be 5-10. In a game dominated by big guys and players with incredible length and athleticism, Boatright remains a rarity -- a little guy who can dominate.
The Huskies have had those players. The explosive and indomitable Kemba Walker. The crafty and dramatic Shabazz Napier.
Then there's Boatright. He's been a little guy his entire life and with that comes an ability to find a way to get his shot off.
All that work playing against some trees, in the playgrounds in Aurora, Illinois and all the pickup games he's ever played set himself up for the moment.
The key for Boatright is space. He didn't have any eight days ago when his last second shot to win against Memphis on Senior Night and threw up a prayer of a line drive jumper as the final game of his career in Storrs ended in a dud.
This was different with 13.4 seconds left. Kevin Ollie told him the ball is his. His teammates all knew he was going to take the final shot. Everyone on Cincinnati and the building of 9.514 fans knew who was going to take the ball.
The question was, how was he going to get his shot off?
"I knew if I could create a basket I would make it," Boatright said. "I took a contested shot on Senior Night. I could have took a better shot. Coach gave me an opportunity to take it again and I was not going to disappoint."
Boatright took the dribble out of bounds and calmly dribbled up court. He didn't panic, he didn't rush. He was in control while there was chaos around him.
He got a screen from Hamilton and he saw a switch underneath.
That's when Boatright, with the game clock running down, took a look at the eyes of forward Ocatvius Ellis and then the feet. Ellis is a big guy and was worried about losing Boatright baseline. He was also nervous about defending.
"When I looked at his feet and face he was nervous about me beating him baseline. I knew if I gave him a hard right to left he was going to bite for it," Boatright said.
Boatright knew what he was going to do. He jabbed baseline and the crossed over the dribble to his left. It's a play he's practiced countless times. The crossover generates just enough space, and the step back jump shot was there. Allen Iverson, Boatright's idol who he patterned his game after, popularized the move. When in rhythm it is unguardable.
"My game is have a great handle and get separation and knockdown shots when you get that separation," Boatright said. "After he slipped, part of being a player, you got to read situations. I took a dribble, seen which way he was forcing me and i gave him a hard right to left."
All of that happened in the span of 13 seconds with no panic whatsoever.
Boatright looked to be the most comfortable man on the court late Friday night and once he crossed over had beaten the defense. The only thing he had to do was knock down the shot. At that point, it was game over.
UConn teammate Rodney Purvis didn't even have to see the ball go in the net. He knew what was coming. The move was smooth and in rhythm, Boatright doesn't miss that. His ball nestled through the nets for another improbable UConn win in March.
"I've seen him take several of those shots, I knew which one he makes, and which ones he misses," Purvis, who added 17 points, said. "it was a great move, great separation on the move. Kemba-like).
For Boatright, it continues a mission to get back into the NCAAs. The Huskies are now 19-13, in need of two more wins -- Saturday against Tulsa and then Sunday in the AAC championship game -- to get back to the NCAA tournament. The Huskies are already halfway to that goal and with two more wins will be headed back to defend their NCAA title.
On Tuesday the run looked improbable. But with a home crowd that was certainly a factor on Friday night, can anyone count the Huskies out?
Haven't we seen this before?