For UConn's Giffey, a bad day turns great

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
12:09
AM ET


NEW YORK -- Shabazz Napier isn’t the only Connecticut player going to a second Final Four.

Fellow seniors Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander were also on the 2011 national championship team, and can now boast of being a part of two historic Huskies squads.

“It’s unbelievable,” Giffey said, standing in the center of the UConn locker room following its 60-54 victory over Michigan State. “I don’t even know what to say.”

The soft-spoken Giffey had plenty to say though, when he wasn’t smiling or celebrating with teammates -- even though he had just played one of his worst games of the season.

“I think it’s just a maturity process you have to go through,” Giffey said. “At this point it really doesn’t matter who scores and how you score.”

[+] EnlargeNiels Giffey
Brad Horrigan/Hartford Courant/MCT/Getty ImagesNiels Giffey finished with six points in 35 minutes on Sunday.
Olander was a bit player this season, but Giffey has been a sometime-starter and key contributor, fourth on the team in scoring at 8.3 points per game.

Giffey shoots 56.1 percent from the field and 51.4 percent from behind the 3-point line, making it all the more stunning that he was 2-for-10 overall and 0-for-5 from deep against the Spartans.

He missed five of his six shots in the first half, and the only one he made in the second half was a dunk. Most were wide-open looks.

“You just gotta keep a clear head, try to not think about your shot too much,” Giffey said. “Keep yourself level, don’t get too emotional, don’t get too negative with yourself.

“Those are the shots my team wants me to take. Even when I got a little frustrated, all the guys came over [and said] keep shooting, keep shooting. That’s just my job on this team.”

Case in point: With less than three minutes remaining and UConn clinging to a 51-49 lead, Giffey unleashed a shot from beyond the arc. He was open, but there were still 20 seconds on the shot clock -- plenty of time to get a better look by a hotter player. And he missed.

But at the next stoppage of play, following a Michigan State turnover, we saw Napier and fellow teammate Ryan Boatright standing in front of Giffey, patting him on the chest and encouraging him.

That kind of thing doesn't happen on a lot of teams, folks.

“I’m missing shot after shot after shot, and he still goes to me,” Giffey said of Napier. “He believes in me, probably even more than I believe in myself.”

Giffey’s teammates picked him up, in more ways than one, and now he doesn’t have to end his college career on one of his worst games.

Instead, he’ll play in his second Final Four -- not bad for a lightly recruited kid from Germany who had few Division I scholarship offers.

“Four months before I committed here I didn’t even know what UConn was and where Connecticut was,” Giffey said.

Now he is a part of school history.
Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
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