UConn defeated USF Wednesday night, 61-56, in a game that went down to the wire in the Sun Dome.
Huskies guard Shabazz Napier put the game out of reach as he nailed a 3-pointer with 23.6 seconds remaining in the game, increasing the Huskies’ lead to five.
Despite making the shot, USF coach Stan Heath said he was still pleased with how the defense held up during the play.
“I was happy with the switch,” Heath said. “He just made a really hard shot. Sometimes you just got to take your hat off and say ‘good shot’.”
Napier scored only two of his 17 points in the first half, but led his team from behind in the second as he took over scoring. While the Bulls were successful in locking down Napier early on, Heath said he thinks it would have been nearly impossible to shut him down for a full 40 minutes.
“When he gets in the NBA, maybe,” Heath said. “But so far, no one I’ve seen has an answer. I’ve seen him hit the buzzer shot against Florida; I’ve seen him do it in our league. That’s what makes him special, he’s an assassin.”
USF was leading 38-29 with 14 minutes remaining in the game, but UConn went on an 18-0 run to take a nine-point lead, which they would never relinquish.
“Napier was incredible down the stretch, but we were down nine and we could have folded to 10, and then we went on an 18-0 run,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “It just shows the grit of my guys and the togetherness that we have.”
USF forward Victor Rudd led the Bulls in scoring with 14, but it took the senior 17 attempts to get to that mark.
One of the reasons USF (12-16, 3-12) was able to keep pace with the Huskies (22-6, 10-5) down the stretch was the play of guard Josh Heath. The freshman scored all seven of his points within the final four minutes of the game and was an important part of the Bulls’ scoring.
“I just wanted to give ourselves a chance,” Josh said. “Last time at UConn we didn’t give ourselves a chance.”
Stan said the coaching staff thought about starting Josh before the game, but didn’t want to give him a difficult challenge by pitting him against two of the nation’s best guards in Napier and junior Ryan Boatright.
The Bulls will have a chance to break out of their current five-game losing streak Saturday when they travel to Rutgers. Stan said there is a definite possibility that Josh could make his debut in the starting lineup when the team tips off at noon.