HARTFORD, Conn. -- Connecticut fans have grown accustomed to the heroics of guard Shabazz Napier, but the performance Saturday by the senior from Roxbury, Mass., may rank among the best regular-season efforts in school history.
Napier scored a career-high 34 points to lead No. 24 UConn to an 86-81 overtime victory over No. 20 Memphis in a critical conference game before a sellout crowd of 16,294 XL Center. UConn's third consecutive victory gave the Huskies a sweep of the regular-season series with the Tigers.
After taking control of the game in the second half and almost winning the game on the final shot of regulation, Napier (10 of 21 from the floor) hit his fifth 3-pointer of the game to give the Huskies (20-5, 8-4 American Athletic Conference) a 79-74 lead with 1:45 left in overtime.
Guard Ryan Boatright had 21 points and six assists for UConn.
Guard Joe Jackson led Memphis with 24 points. Guard Geron Johnson added 15 and guard Chris Crawford contributed 12 points for the Tigers (19-6, 8-4).
Napier tied the game on a three-point play with 51.9 seconds left in regulation. Napier drove the lane for a layup, was fouled by Geron Johnson, and hit the free throw to tie score 69-69.
On the ensuing Memphis possession, UConn forward DeAndre Daniels blocked a shot by forward Shaq Goodwin and there was a scramble for the loose ball. After a review, the officials awarded possession to UConn with 16.1 seconds left. Napier worked his dribble down to the buzzer but his 3-pointer rolled around the rim twice before popping out of the basket and sending the game to overtime.
Napier, who had nine points and two rebounds in the first half, hit a 3-pointer to give UConn a 49-48 lead with 13:12 remaining. Then he took control of the game with an amazing three-minute display that included two free throws, two layups, a 3-point basket and two defensive rebounds.
The 3-pointer gave the Huskies a 58-51 lead with 10:30 left. But Memphis refused to let the game get out of control. A 3-pointer by Crawford and a transition layup by Jackson cut the UConn advantage to 58-56.
Forward Niels Giffey's first 3-pointer of the game, with 42 seconds left in the first half, allowed the Huskies to hold a 36-35 halftime lead. That was despite Memphis shooting 55.6 percent and outscoring the Huskies 16-12 in the paint. The Tigers also picked up 10 fastbreak points in the first half, as UConn struggled to get back on defense.
Memphis jumped out to a seven-point lead early in the game and led 14-8 after a layup by forward Austin Nichols with 14:44 left in the first half.
Napier then triggered a 15-0 run by UConn, hitting a 3-pointer with 14:12 left in half. Two free throws by forward Kentan Facey ended the run and gave UConn a 23-14 lead with 10:21 left. Memphis went almost five minutes without scoring in that stretch, but responded with an 11-0 run to take a 25-23 lead.
NOTES: American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco said Saturday that his schools are committed to keeping up with the rest of the NCAA in terms of providing stipends to athletes. Defraying costs to help athletes has become a hot topic during recent NCAA meetings and the bigger conferences with major football programs are seeking more autonomy. "As a conference we've already committed to provide a full cost of attendance stipend, if that's passed," said Aresco, who met with media members prior to the Memphis-UConn game. "It's unclear what that's going to be, whether it's going to be based on federal guidelines, or what the cost of attendance is for each individual school. And that can include incidentals like laundry and travel and other things kids have not necessarily covered by their full scholarships." ... UConn G Omar Calhoun (concussion) missed his second consecutive game. Calhoun was injured last Sunday in UConn's win at Central Florida and his status remains day-to-day. ... G Ryan Boatright became the 48th player in UConn history to reach the career 1,000-point mark. He entered the game with 999 points and made two free throws with 13:49 left in the first half.