MEMPHIS – After the Huskies got back from Texas, they not only practiced, they brainstormed. They looked across the room at each other in team meetings and asked the questions that needed to be asked.
"We hit that little slump," Shabazz Napier said, "we were not really second-guessing who we were, but we were trying to figure out how good we really are."
There is a lot of season left, but UConn left a national calling card Thursday night, going into the packed FedEx Forum and knocking off 17th-ranked Memphis, 83-73.
"We proved to ourselves we're a good team," said Napier, who had 17 points and 10 assists. "… Big win, fellas. Big win."
The Huskies (14-3, 2-2 in the AAC) have regrouped, refocused and rebounded from the losses to Houston and Southern Methodist to win three in a row, restoring their confidence and credibility, and with defending national champ Louisville coming to Gampel on Saturday, they have an opportunity to vault back into the rankings. They got the first of the two in impressive fashion, their first road win in the American Athletic Conference against one of its better teams, and were as exuberant afterward as at any time this season.
"I think, everybody on this team, we wanted it more," said DeAndre Daniels, who had 23 points and 11 rebounds, in one of the best games of his career. "We believe we can rebound with the best teams in the country, we just had to go out and do it. That's what we did."
UConn outrebounded Memphis 34-27, including 20-8 in the second half. They were leading 64-63 with 4:48 to play, but Napier, who had a rough shooting night, took the ball through the lane to the basket to score and ignite a finishing spurt. When Daniels hit a three-pointer with 2:09 to go, UConn led 73-65 and the crowd of 18,093 was finally subdued. A couple of turnovers made it interesting with about a minute to go, but the Huskies finally closed it out as Lasan Kromah, Napier and Ryan Boatright went 6 for 6 from the foul line.
"A big-time win for the University of Connecticut," coach Kevin Ollie said. "When we play with that toughness, that mental toughness, we just executed, executed, executed."
As expected, the game unfolded at a fast pace. The Huskies broke out of a 14-14 tie with a 7-0 run midway through the first half. Omar Calhoun came off the bench and out of his funk, driving to the rim for a basket and then hitting a three-pointer to ignite the Huskies.
Memphis (12-4, 3-2), which was last in the AAC in three-point shooting, hit five of its first seven, yet missed a number of easy shots under the basket when the Tigers did go on the break. Still, the Tigers were able to pound it inside and get to the line, and also get UConn's big men into foul trouble. Memphis opened up a six point lead late in the half.
Though Napier (1 for 6) and Boatright (2 for 6) were cold shooting in the first half, Boatright finished the half with a three to pull UConn within one, 40-39, at the break. Daniels hit jumper to start the second half, giving the Huskies the lead once again.
Daniels hit two threes, a total of eight points in the first 2:31 of the half, to extend UConn's lead to 49-42. Working inside and out, Daniels had 18 points in the second half.
"I was more aggressive in the second half," Daniels said. "At one point, Shabazz told me, 'When they come at you, just head fake, put it on the ground and take it to the rack.' "
Said Napier: "You think that was a great game? DeAndre is spectacular. He can be the best player on this team, it isn't even fair, he's so talented. He just has to get after it like he did tonight."
The game continued to surge back and forth until the final minutes, the lead changing hands 13 times, until the Huskies' experience appeared to be a factor and they closed it out.
"We understood they were going to make their run," Napier said, "and we just slowed the game down to our pace. We have a lot of veterans on this team. It shows you how intelligent this group of players is, we need to know our game so we can get the right shot at the right time."
The Huskies did a solid job on the Tigers' top players. Guard Joe Jackson went 4 for 14 and scored 11 points; Shaq Goodwin had 10 points and just two rebounds. Memphis stayed in by shooting the three-pointer much better than it normally does, going 7 for 17. Michael Dixon Jr. led the Tigers with 16 points.
Memphis pounded the ball inside and got UConn's big men in foul trouble – both Amida Brimah and Phil Nolan fouled out – but with Tyler Olander the Huskies had just enough to finish the game. Kromah, 5 for 5 from the floor, scored 13.
"We were ball-hunters tonight," Ollie said. "We put that on the board – we were going to hunt the basketball. Rebounding and transition defense, those were our keys. This is a hard place to win, especially for a team coming in here for the first time. They had lost just one game here. Now it's two."