Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Rapid Reax: UConn 71, W. Virginia 67
By Kieran Darcy
Overview: Two down, three to go.
Connecticut, which trailed West Virginia for almost the entire second half, by as many as 11, staged a furious rally in the final five minutes to send the game into overtime, then pulled out the win in the extra period. Another magical Madison Square Garden moment for the Huskies, who are now two-fifths of the way to repeating their incredible five-wins-in-five-days performance in the Big East tournament last year.
UConn (20-12, 8-10 Big East) also likely locked up an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament with the victory.
For West Virginia (19-13, 9-9 Big East), it's a bitter defeat -- and its final game as a member of the Big East conference. The Mountaineers will be members of the Big 12 next season. For now, they'll have to wait and see if their name is called on Selection Sunday.
Turning point: After a tight first 20 minutes, West Virginia took control of the game early in the second half. UConn trailed 61-52 with 4:58 remaining, and West Virginia seemed firmly in control -- but then Shabazz Napier took over. Doing his best Kemba Walker impression, Napier scored nine straight points for the Huskies down the stretch, including back-to-back steals that led to layups, the second of which tied the game at 63. We ended up in overtime, tied at 65.
Napier fouled out with 2:35 left in OT, but his teammates picked up -- Jeremy Lamb in particular. Lamb hit the biggest shot of the game, a 3-pointer off a curl screen to break a 67-all tie with 1:05 left. The Huskies shut out the Mountaineers the rest of the way.
Key player: Napier was brilliant in the second half. After scoring just four points in the first 20 minutes and shooting just 1-for-7 from the field, he erupted for 20 points in the second half and finished with a game-high 26, to go along with six assists and four rebounds.
Lamb added 22 points, 12 in the first half. He disappeared for a while in the second half, but then made the huge shot in OT.
For West Virginia, Kevin Jones -- the conference's leading scorer and rebounder this season -- had one more outstanding Big East game, with 25 points and 10 rebounds.
Miscellaneous: UConn is going to have to rebound better to advance any further in this tournament. The Mountaineers killed the Huskies on the offensive glass, 26-8, leading to 25 second-chance points. ... UConn also struggled from the foul line for the second straight game, making just 14-of-22. Ryan Boatright missed three of four in the final minute of OT, but finally got one down to make it a two-possession game.
What's next: UConn will play No. 1 seed Syracuse in a wonderful Big East quarterfinal matchup, Thursday at noon. West Virginia goes home and faces a few days of uncertainty leading up to Selection Sunday.