NEW YORK — Tears trickling down her cheeks, Tanesha Boatright embraced her son and wouldn't let go.
Ryan Boatright, holding the piece of net he had snipped from the Madison Square Garden hoop, squeezed his mother. Amid the on-court celebration after UConn's 60-54 victory over Michigan State in the East Regional final Sunday afternoon, the mother and son were in their own world.
"So proud of you," Tanesha said.
Boatright, surrounded by reporters, conducted interviews with one arm around his mother.
"This is my Momma," Boatright said. "I love her to death."
Boatright, a junior, has been a key figure for the Huskies all season. On Sunday, he contributed 11 points and never quite found his shooting stroke.
But he played an important role in the victory that sent UConn to the Final Four. Offensively, he sank a three-pointer with 6 minutes, 30 seconds left to give UConn a 10-point lead. He also delivered a pair of free throws after Michigan State cut the lead to four points with under four minutes left.
His larger contribution was on defense. Boatright was active throughout the game, with four steals and constant pressure on Michigan State's guards.
Keith Appling, who was averaging 11.4 points entering the game, was limited to two points.
"They tell me all the time that I'm the defensive stopper for the point guards," Boatright said. "So I take pride in my defense, picking them up 94 feet, the entire length of the floor. Even if I can't pick a steal, just turning them and turning them and getting them uncomfortable so they can't run the offense so smoothly, it just helps the team."
Boatright was 2-for-5 and missed his only three-point attempt in the first half. He was 1-for-4 from the floor in the second half.
"I was having an off shooting night a little bit," Boatright said. "Some shots weren't going down for me, but I had to find a way to affect the game. I was on the court, so you have to find a way to affect the game. And that way for me was playing defense."
It has been a strange journey for Boatright, who came to Connecticut as a highly touted recruit from Aurora, Ill. He was forced to sit out nine games of his freshman year after the NCAA said that he and his family received improper benefits during his recruiting process.
Boatright averaged 10 points as a freshman and 15.4 last season. This season, he averaged 12.1 points and his field goal percentage dipped from 42.9 percent to 38 percent.
But his quickness at both ends has affected games all season. Teaming with Shabazz Napier for one of the quickest backcourts in the country, Boatright is a solid NBA prospect.
A deep run in March only enhances his resume.
"We believed in each other and we knew we could win these games," Boatright said. "And that's all that matters."
Now it's on to the Final Four, where the Huskies will face No. 1 Florida on Saturday night.
"It's a blessing, man," Boatright said. "It's an unbelievable opportunity. … It's just surreal right now. We're living in the moment. Once we get a chance to calm down and get that bus ride to CT, it's going to hit us."