Ryan Boatright powered his way down the lane as he had done, or tried to do, all year. He bumped with Bryce Cotton and tossed up an off-balance shot.
Some of these crazy shots went in for the UConn men's basketball team this year, some of them didn't. There were highs that were very high, lows that were terribly disappointing and the only realistic outcome of this season, for this "team with nothing to play for," figured to be emptiness.
But Boatright's shot went in Saturday, and UConn got the foul call, and his free throw went in, too, and the Huskies were leading again — and on their way to yet another dramatic, overtime victory, beating Providence 63-59 before 10,167 at Gampel Pavilion.
As prescribed by the NCAA, the balls will be put away now, but the season that the Huskies put together for rookie coach Kevin Ollie will not soon be forgotten.
"Fantastic year," Ollie said. "I'm sad that it's over with, but I'm very happy and satisfied with this team and what they gave me. The resolve, the resiliency they showed, the dedication they showed through ups and downs and all the changes, them sticking together. Through the pain, I always say, there is going to be promise."
The Huskies won their 20th game, finished their last season in the Big East with a winning record at 10-8 and achieved the primary intangible goal that Ollie, in his first year, had set for them: "That's the best-attitude team in America," Ollie said, this time with finality.
Kadeem Batts had 14 points and 12 rebounds for Providence (17-13, 9-9), but the Friars postseason hopes were damaged by this second loss to the Huskies.
UConn played its seventh overtime game of the season, a school record, and although the Huskies looked exhausted, they shut the Friars out for the first 3 ½ minutes of the extra session to take control of it. Of all of UConn's improbable wins this season, over Michigan State in Germany, at Notre Dame, over Syracuse at the XL Center and the four previous overtime wins, this one might have been the most remarkable of all. Three of UConn's top six players — Niels Giffey, with a broken finger, Tyler Olander, with a broken foot, and Omar Calhoun, with a sprained wrist — were on the bench in civilian clothes. And their best player, Shabazz Napier, decided only 35 minutes before the game to put his sneakers on and give it a try with his injured right foot.
"He wasn't dressed yet," DeAndre Daniels said, "but we saw him putting his shoes on and we all got happy."
Once Napier was dressed, R.J. Evans, a graduate student who transferred from Holy Cross for a one-year hitch, addressed the team, telling them how proud he was to be a part of what they had done. Then the Huskies took the floor to "write the last chapter," Evans said.
Evans, starting in place of Calhoun, didn't score, but hounded Providence's top scorer, Bryce Cotton, throughout the game, limiting him to nine points, 4 of 13 from the floor. Phil Nolan, who didn't get off the bench through most of the early games this season, played 34 minutes without a backup at center, getting six rebounds and staying out of foul trouble. UConn, outrebounded 55 to 24 with its full squad at Providence on Jan. 31, won the rebounding battle with this skeleton crew, 39 to 38.
Boatright scored 23 points, Daniels 19 and Napier 16 for UConn. The Huskies jumped out to a 10-4 lead, with Napier scoring five of the points, and led by as much as 10 in the first half, 29-19, on Nolan's put-back with 4:32 left in the half. Providence edged back and took its first lead, 36-34, on Dunn's basket early in the second half, and the game went back and forth down the stretch — in classic Big East fashion.
Daniels blocked LaDontae Henton's potential game-winning shot with 1.1 seconds left, and on to OT it went, tied at 55.
"I said, 'Oh, no, not again,'" said Napier, who scored 55 points in UConn's nine overtime sessions. "I can't go through another overtime. I'm so beat up."
Napier made a fall-away jumper, though, to give UConn the lead, and Boatright made two free throws to make it 59-55. The Huskies missed several chances to put it away, and Providence tied it again on Henton's two free throws with 45 seconds left.
Then Boatright dribbled the clock down and made his move on Cotton.
"He'd been riding me the whole game," Boatright said, "I got in his chest and tried to get some separation."
Said Ollie, "Ryan is explosive one-on-one, he can go by anybody."
The shot fell, and Cotton was called for a foul, angering Providence coach Ed Cooley. "That should have been a no-call," Cooley said, "I thought they both created the contact."
Up by three with 19 seconds left, Ollie, as he had decided with mixed success this year, did not foul on Providence's last possession. Cotton missed the three-point shot and Napier came down with the rebound with eight seconds left. He ended up at the line, made his shot, and win No. 20 was in the books. For the first time since 1978, a UConn season ended without any league or national postseason action. But for playing the way it did, the Huskies were honored in a postgame ceremony, athletic director Warde Manuel presenting a framed tribute, their fans voicing their appreciation.
"I think this team was fit for this entire reason," Napier said, "the team was so resentful [about the postseason ban] that we were never going to quit. It just seemed right. Today showed that we had about six or seven guys on the court ready to play and we still stayed together, and that's a beautiful thing."