BY: RICH FOGEL
In the third game of a brutal five game stretch where Temple is facing all top-25 ranked teams; UConn came into the Liacouras for the first time in their program history and completed the season sweep of Temple.
“We will have played 12 teams this year that would have been in the top-25 at some point this season. But of course that’s what you want, that great challenge and we have been presented by that, it’s been a tough road to hoe but we have more in store,” Dunphy said afterwards.
Shabazz Napier led all scorers with 17 points, adding 12 rebounds and dishing out seven assists. He leads UConn in all three of those major categories this season. Quenton DeCosey led Temple with 16 points, collecting eight rebounds in his 38 minutes of play.
Temple jumped out to a hot start, leading by as much as eight early on in the first half.
The offensive rebounding was a strong suite for Temple early on. AAC rebounding leader Anthony Lee was back in the lineup for Temple after missing the game on Sunday against SMU with a left knee injury; he gave Temple a boost on the glass.
The speed and depth of UConn started to take control of the game midway through the first half. Napier is one of the quickest point guards in the conference, and his impact was evident. Napier, the floor general for UConn wasn’t scoring a lot but handed out five assists and gathered four rebounds in the first half.
“[Napier] is Connecticut’s leading rebounder which says a lot about him, that’s the knowledge of the game that he has,” Fran Dunphy praised. “He’s a winner, he knows how to win games, he wasn’t shooting it great tonight but he didn’t force anything, he gets himself to the line. He’s a really good basketball player, he’s right at the top of our league in terms of the quality of player,” Dunphy added.
UConn went on a 9-0 run from the ten minute mark of the first half to the seven minute mark. With that run they took the lead from Temple and never relinquished it the rest of the game. Ryan Boatright was pacing the Huskies with nine points at intermission.
Temple shot 33 percent in the first compared to UConn’s 47 percent. The couple three’s that Temple hit kept them in the game as they trailed by eight at the break. Mark Williams led Temple in scoring with eight off the bench.
“I’m just staying with it,” Williams said afterwards. “Coach has confidence in me to put me in there, my teammates, they have confidence in me and I got the opportunity and I just capitalize. Just working hard everyday and playing together,” the freshmen went on to say.
The second half started off well for UConn, hitting on their first three shots, their lead quickly ballooned to 12. Napier and Lasan Kromah had a steal each in the first minute of play leading to easy baskets on the other end, Fran Dunphy was forced to use a quick timeout.
Temple responded back with their offensive leaders Dalton Pepper and Will Cummings. Each converted on timely three balls within a minute of each other to keep Temple within shouting distance. A made layup from Lee and UConn’s lead was cut to 40-35 at the 15 minute mark.
At the 11 minute mark, Temple made two stops on defense down eight points. However, the first missed jumper from UConn, Temple could not corral the rebound with three white shirts right in the area. The smallest player on the court, Napier, got the rebound and put up another shot. This time Mark Williams comes down with the rebound but immediately traveled. UConn remains with the ball and they bury a three ball to go up 11; the game was starting to slip away from Temple.
“Our defense was a little bit better,” Dunphy mentioned. “However we had that one stretch where we gave two rebounds right back to them that really took a little bit of wind out of us,” coach added.
In a sense of frustration from the crowd, Temple started to go cold from the offensive end as UConn’s defense started to ratchet up and swarm to every loose ball; also their rotation defense was executing to almost perfection. Temple scored only three points from the 15 minute mark to the seven minute mark, nothing was finding the bottom of the net.
“We had our share of open looks from the perimeter but we obviously had a tough time knocking those down,” Dunphy said. “5 for 18, we need to be maybe 9 for 18 at this point if we wanted a chance,” he added.
Overall, Temple shot 33.9 percent from the field for the game, marking their third worst percentage all season. They gave up the least points all season but it corresponded with their second lowest total on the offensive end.
The Owls kept it within reaching distance the entire second half but just could not close the gap from that 8-10 point range. You could sense some fight within the team which is always tough in such a dismal season.
“We did some good things, but you have to finish plays and we had a couple of opportunities, wide open jump shots that just didn’t go,” Dunphy said. “If your going to win this game against this quality of an opponent you gotta make shots, we didn’t do that but I thought we ran our offense well enough to get some decent looks,” Dunphy went onto say.
UConn is a discipline team under Kevin Ollie and coming down the stretch they committed few turnovers and made their free throws.
This is Temple’s 11th conference loss this season, marking the highest in the AAC. The Owls are back in action on the road Saturday against 20th ranked Memphis.