Huskies Beat Rutgers In Regular Season Home Finale

Niels Giffey, center, and Tyler Olander greet the student section as the leave the floor following UConn's win over Rutgers on Wednesday night. (John Woike)

STORRS – The emotion of Senior Night was everything it was expected to be and more, but it ended and there was business to be transacted.

It was a little trickier business than anticipated, but the Huskies shrugged off their celebration and took care of it, Shabazz Napier scoring 26 points to lead them over Rutgers, 69-63, before 10,267 at sold-out Gampel Pavilion on Wednesday night.

"I wasn't worried about it at all," said Napier, who hit 7 of 11 three-point attempts. "I love to play the game so much, all that stuff goes out the window."

Napier, Niels Giffey, Tyler Olander and Lasan Kromah were honored before their final game on campus and, as a token of his appreciation, coach Kevin Ollie made sure all four were in the starting lineup. They helped the Huskies jump to an early lead. Napier, Olander and Giffey, all of whom played on the 2011 national championship team, combined to hit 16 of 25 shots.

Giffey, 6-for-9, made four threes to score a career-high 16 points, playing 36 minutes with DeAndre Daniels limited by foul trouble.

"DeAndre got a couple of early fouls, so I knew I had to be more aggressive," Giffey said. "I was really carried by the emotions we had."

Olander had a couple of momentum-changing baskets in the second half, and finished with four points and three rebounds in 13 minutes.

"They saved their best for last," Ollie said. "It was just a wonderful, special moment to get this win in front of some of the greatest fans in the world."

After Napier's steal and DeAndre Daniels' blocked shot during the final minutes helped seal the win, Ollie grabbed the microphone to tell those same fans that he planned to "come back in April and raise a banner." And his seniors, as always, were on board.

"That's how he felt, and I'm not going to shy away from it," Napier said. "I'm going to back him up."

The 19th-ranked Huskies (24-6, 12-5 in the American Athletic Conference) are certainly NCAA Tournament bound, and have an opportunity to make a bigger statement on the court at Louisville, where they will play the defending national champs on Saturday. Then comes the first AAC Tournament in Memphis.

But for now, they were happy to get a win in another game in which they were outrebounded (37-28), against an opponent that for much of the game had a piping-hot shooting touch. They completed a two-game sweep of the season series with Rutgers, which is leaving for the Big Ten.

"Rutgers came in here and shot very well," Ollie said, "They played their type of game and their pace. But at the end of the day we made the stops and we got the win. I'll take 24-6 going into Louisville, but we have to be together, and that's what we're going to be."

Rutgers (11-19, 5-12) missed seven of its first eight shots and UConn jumped out to a 10-4 lead, capped by Kromah's three-point goal with 15:50 to play in the half. Then Ollie returned Ryan Boatright and Amida Brimah to the lineup, but the Knights got going, hitting 20 of their next 33 shots from the floor. Myles Mack, who was 2-for-9 against UConn on Jan. 25, was 4-for-4 in the first half, helping Rutgers take the lead. Napier, who had 14 in the first half, hit a three to put UConn back on top, 16-15, and he hit two free throws at the end of the half to give the Huskies a 34-31 lead at the break.

"We talked about it," Ollie said of the ceremonies, "l told [Napier] it's a great milestone but at the end of the day, we've got to play basketball and you've got to lead us and that's what he did."

The Huskies still led by three, 56-53, midway through the second half when Rutgers finally cooled off, missing 10 shots in a row, going scoreless for more than seven minutes. In what had become a loosely officiated, frenzied-paced game, UConn set up Phil Nolan for two throw-downs on successive trips down the floor and opened a 64-53 lead with six minutes to play.

But again Rutgers responded and made it a four-point game down the stretch. Mack scored 16, Wally Judge 13.

"We're not up for moral victories," coach Eddie Jordan said. "Winning is No.1, but 1-A is competitive spirit, our drive, our demeanor and how we compete. So 1-A was there. … We're not close to conceding the season, we're fighting."

Napier stole the ball with 1:21 left and with UConn clinging to a 67-61 lead. Daniels, who was limited to 21 minutes by foul trouble, scored seven points. But he blocked Judge's shot with 29.7 seconds left, forcing the Knights to foul. Napier made 1 of 2 from the line with 17 seconds left to finally put the game safely away.

Said Giffey, "it was really the perfect end for me playing at Gampel."

"I told the guys, even though its Senior Day, we have to come out and play the same way," Napier said, "play the way we know how to play."