HARTFORD, Conn. – The matchup between Syracuse and UConn on Wednesday was going to be a showcase of two of the top backcourts in the Big East.
On Syracuse's side were Michael Williams-Carter and Brandon Triche. As for UConn, the dynamic duo of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright is the engine that makes the team ho.
Wednesday's game hinged on the play of each backcourt and at the XL Center it was a clear advantage for UConn in its 66-58 victory.
Boatright broke out of his mini-slump with a team-high 17 points and four assists while Napier had another steady game with 10 points and seven assists. Throw in freshman wing Omar Calhoun's 15 points and three 3-pointers during a key second half run and the Huskies can thank the upset to its guard play.
The Huskies defense held the Orange's highly regarded backcourt to numbers well below their averages. Carter-Williams led the nations in assists coming into Wednesday's game at 8.5 per game but managed only one assist and four turnovers to go with his 15 points. Triche had a nightmare game shooting and was 3 of 15 shooting for nine points in 38 minutes. The Syracuse duo combined to go 0 for 10 from 3-point range.
It was billed as the marquee matchup of backcourts, but it was UConn's smaller duo of Napier and Boatright that created havoc. Carter-Williams eventually fouled out of the game.
“Our guards, it starts with them,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said Wednesday night. “And they played tremendous defense. You see a guy like Michael Carter-Williams a great player, get one assists. And, we hold a team with so much talent to 35 percent (shooting). It really shows the hard work and dedication they put in.”
Connecticut's Ryan Boatright, right, blocks a shot-attempt by Syracuse's Brandon Triche in the final minutes of second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Hartford, Conn., Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013. Connecticut won 66-58. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
A lot was made at the size disparity in the backourts with Napier and Boatright listed at 6-1 and 5-11 respectively. Carter-Williams is 6-6 while Triche is a strong and physical player at 6-4. the Huskies countered that strength and size with quickness.
“We just tried to play as hard as we can defensively,” Napier said. “Boatright pressure Carter-Williams, we had all five guys paying attention to the ball as well as paying attention to their man. We just stuck together.”
Napier took on the role of facilitator, taking only six shots in the game – but paced the offense and made plays in the passing. He found Niels Giffey on a lob dunk and also connected on a pretty ally-oop dunk feed to Boatright that sent the XL Center fans into delirium with happiness.
Those were just several of the way the Huskies picked apart the formidable matchup zone of the Orange. Calhoun hit three 3-pointers in the second half and UConn as a team was a scorching 8 of 14 from 3-point range.
“Coach has been preaching to us all week that we need to get in the middle, try and split the gaps, get into the gaps and create open shots,” Boatright said. “We knew that if we stood around the perimeter and jack-bombed 3s we were going to lose.”
UConn shot 45 percent from the floor, managed 25 points in the paint and were 16 of 22 from the free-throw line.
“They shot 8 of 14 from three, which is the best anybody's shot against us in a long time,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “I think Connecticut has proven that they're really a good basketball team. Their guards played extremely well, but I thought all their guys played well.”
UConn is now 17-6, 7-4 in Big East play heading into Saturday's home date with Villanova.
Thursday roundupUConn Men's Basketball Team Stuns No. 6 Syracuse (Hartford Courant)
UCONN MEN'S BASKETBALL: Huskies stun No. 6 Syracuse (New Haven Register)