Boatright proves defensive skills are still there

STORRS – You could say Ryan Boatright picked up exactly where he left off last season in Arlington, Texas. No, the stage wasn’t the Final Four. The opponent wasn’t Kentucky or Florida or Michigan State or Iowa State. This was Friday night at Gampel Pavilion and it was the 2014-15 season opener against Bryant.

But the way Boatright attacked the game, especially in the second half, brought back a lot of fond memories for the Huskies and their fans.

College basketball fans across the country got to know Boatright as the most disruptive player in the 2014 NCAA tournament. His pressure defense, his ability to read and disrupt, and his dramatic timing led to easy baskets and momentum as the Huskies marched to their fourth national championship. Now he is in a position of leadership and with the Huskies trailing Bryant by nine points early in the second half, Boatright seized the moment and led the Huskies to their 66-53 victory.

Boatright led all scorers with 24 points – two shy of his career high. But that was just part of The Boat Show Friday night. He had eight rebounds, five assists, one block and four steals in 37 minutes of play.

“Our defense came through,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “Boatright was great. He filled up the stat sheet.”

There are times when Ollie still doesn’t care for Boatright’s body language. And Ollie would love to see more consistency from the first half to the second. But when Boatright looked up to the scoreboard five minutes into the second half and saw the Huskies were down still down six points, he instinctively knew he could turn things around.

“I have a self instinct,” Boatright said. “I can feed off the crowd. I know when I need to get a steal. All of that goes with being a vetreran. Once we got the crowd going I knew it was going to be tough for Bryant. Everything got rolling then.”

A three-pointer by Boatright pulled the Huskies with 42-39. Then Boatright turned into master thief, stealing the ball from Bryant’s Hunter Ware and gliding to the opposite end for a powerful dunk. That triggered an eruption from the crowd, more great defense from the Huskies and an instant change in the game.

“We all knew this was our moment to make our run,” guard Terrence Samuel said.

Ollie loved every number in Boatright’s stat line, including the 7-for-7 performance from the free throw line.

“That’s what I’m talking about. Every stat is filled with something positive,” Ollie said.  “He’s going to have some up and down games like everybody but we need him to stay connected. We need him to be the leader.

“He didn’t have a particularly good first half. He didn’t point the finger at anybody. What he’s doing as a leader is he’s self correcting himself. So he went in at halftime and said I’ve gotta get better on defense. He started picking up, got some steals, started making some shots and got some rebounds. He’s doing all the things we want him to do.”

With the game tied at 45, Boatright stripped Byrant’s Shane McLaughlin and rocketed off for another dunk. The Huskies were on their way.

“Both Shane and Hunter got a little bit of an indoctrination about what an elite defender is like,” Bryant coach Tim O’Shea said.

Said Ollie: “I just think he’s been around with game experience. He played in front of  79,000 people last year on the biggest stage and played great. I think he knows when to pick up that defensive intensity when we need it. That’s what he did tonight. . .  He’s got quick hands. He got steals and some dunks that got the crowd energized.”

And the rest of the Huskies clearly seemed to notice that Boatright had kicked the door open. They followed without hesitation.

“Everything starts with him, offense and defense,” forward Kentan Facey said. “He gives us confidence. He’s always going to be the one that gets us going.”

Boatright said he might put his head down in disappointment from time to time, but with only two fouls in the second half, he knew he could take advantage of Bryant’s tendencies.

“When they were turning they weren’t putting the ball in the other hand, they were dragging it,” Boatright said. “I picked that up all night long. I read them. If you go out there and try to pick somebody every time, you either going to get fouled or they’re going to figure you out. I pick my poison.”





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