HARTFORD, Conn. -- Ryan Boatright got pass from Phil Nolan after an offensive rebound and lined up for 3 late against Memphis on Saturday.
The Huskies needed a basket, they trailed by three, and Boatright had an open look.
No one would have faulted him for taking it with less than a minute to go. He took a pump fake, tried to draw a foul from the leaping defender and when that didn't work he stayed patient, kicking the ball out to Shabazz Napier.
This wasn't the first half, this was less than a minute in the game down 3. Boatright didn't force, he got the ball to Napier and let him do his thing.
Napier drove the lane and drew layup-and one to tie the score. The Huskies went on to win in overtime 86-81.
"I was thinking about, I was going to pump fake and get to the line if (the defender) was out of control," Boatright said of the game-tying play. "He did a good job on the closeout jumping to the side. Once I knew that, I was going to let coach draw up whatever coach wanted to do."
Napier further bolstered his All-American credentials with a career-high 34 points. Boatright? He continued to play some of the best basketball of his career with 21 points.
In that moment late against Memphis, the fruits of years of labor were paying off. Boatright deferred late to Napier when it dictated it.
The role was reversed in the overtime. Trailing 72-71, Boatright hit the go-ahead jumper. Next possession, Boatright lineup up for three and a 75-71 lead. Boatright would end up scoring eight points in the overtime as the Huskies improved top 20-5, and 8-4 in the American Athletic Conference.
The thought of that happening when Boatright and Napier were young was unthinkable. Napier was a sophomore when Boatright came to campus and was the gunner off the bench who played a key role in the national title game. Boatright? He was the big-time recruit from Chicago who committed as a middle schooler to USC, and has been in the major college pipeline his entire life.
Both players kind of play the same, ball-dominant smallish guards at 6-foot-1 and 5-10. At first glance, their games don't fit and earlier in their time together it didn't as Napier and Boatright always seemed to take turns scoring.
That doesn't happen anymore. Part of coaching, and part of players coming together as a team, is learning to play to their strengths and weaknesses. Boatright and Napier no longer are similar players, that play as one player. It's an instinctive play that took three years to happen.
It took a trust and belief in each other to get there. UConn isn't 20-5 and in position to make a run in the AAC without those two.
"You got to swallow your pride," Boatright said. "When we both came in as great scorers and always have the ball in your hand, you have to swallow your pride and trust in your teammate that he will make the best play possible."
That's the beauty of the pair, which could very well be the best backcourt in the nation. Napier had 34 points on 11 of 21 shooting, 5 of 12 shooting from 3-point range and 9 of 12 from the foul line. He added five rebounds and four assists. Boatright's 21 came on 4 of 12 shooting and 11 of 12 from the foul line. He had six assists and only two turnovers in 40 plus minutes.
The pair combined for 55 points, 20 of 24 from the foul line, 19 assists and nearly all the big points. The pair, against an athletic Memphis team, had only three turnovers.
Few teams in the country can match that production.
"You got to have guards in this game," head coach Kevin Ollie said. "At end of day they can make so much happen on the perimeter. They got to free throw line 24 times and and made 20."
Boatright was sensational in all aspects on Saturday except his shooting. He came to UConn as a scorer and not much else. He had physical ability to be a great defender and passer, but hadn't refined his game yet. The shooting isn't there for Boatright now, but the defense and the passing and leadership are. He is in tune and on the same page with Napier and the rest of the team.
"My whole life I scored the ball," Boatright said. "I know I can score. It comes down to confidence. If you let confidence get too low and your game goes South. I know what I've accomplished, and I now I can put the ball in the hole.
"When you aren't scoring, you have to do other things to help team win. When I wasn't hitting shots, I tried to play great defense and help someone with an assist. It is all about winning."
That's Napier's focus too. Napier was a polarizing player his first two years at UConn. He was reckless, out-spoken and at times took shots that made you scratch your head. Last year he put together a stellar season in anonymity. This year? He's turned into one of the best in the nation.
"He's a great player. He's an All-American player," head coach Kevin Ollie said of Napier. "I know I might be biased, but he's the best guard in America, to me, hands down. He just keeps focusing in on the things we need to do to win. He knows when it's time to take over the game, or when to get DeAndre (Daniels) in the game, when to get Boat in the game."
He doesn't get there without Boatright. Boatright augments Napier's game, and the duo can share point guard duties and attack the basket. On defense, both can play the passing lanes and get out on the break as the lead guard, or get to the wing and finish. That takes time, and it wasn't easy.
"It's been 3 years we've been playing with each other," Napier said. "If you don't know how to play with someone after that then you are selfish. It took time, but we learned."
The goal is winning, and Napier and Boatright have that figured out.
"I don't care who is scoring the most, as long as we are winning games," Napier said. "I am not here to compete against a teammate."
It took a little swallowing of pride from each, and a lot of time together on the floor. As the duo enters the final stretch of their time together, it's hard to a better duo.