The Connecticut Huskies will take on the unbeaten New Mexico Lobos in the championship game of the Paradise Jam at the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center on Monday.
The Lobos advanced to this championship bout with a thrilling victory over George Mason in the semifinals. Trailing by five points with less than 20 seconds remaining the Lobos scored six unanswered points on 3-pointers by Kendall Williams and Tony Snell to escape with the win. The Lobos will be at home in their next three games beginning against Idaho on Friday.
The Huskies' semifinal match also came down to the wire against Quinnipiac. The Huskies overcame a 10-point second half deficit to force overtime and then needed a second extra session to finally pull out an 89-83 win. The victory puts the Huskies at 4-0 on the young season, the first under head coach Kevin Ollie, who took over for Jim Calhoun, who retired before the campaign. Once tournament play is over Connecticut will return to campus to face Stony Brook at Gampel Pavilion.
In only one previous meeting, Connecticut came out on top in a 78-56 decision during the 1999 NCAA Tournament which was the year the Huskies won their first national title.
It wasn't just tight at the end in New Mexico's win over George Mason as the game featured eight ties and 11 lead changes. However the Lobos did not lead at all in the second half until Snell's game-winning 3-pointer fell through. New Mexico shot 44.0 percent from the floor overall and held a 17-10 edge in points from the free throw line. Snell scored 27 points, with none bigger than the shot at the end of regulation.
Snell is listed as a guard but at 6-foot-7, has the size to get inside as well as score from the perimeter. On the season, Snell is scoring at a very high rate (19.7 ppg) while rarely seeing any rest as he averages 37 minutes a contest. Williams has been a workhorse as well for the Lobos playing 36.3 minutes per game. Like Snell, Williams is a plus sized guard (6-foot-5) who can score (189.0 ppg) but has also been a steady force on offense with his ability to set up teammates (4.3 apg). In the paint, Alex Kirk (10.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg) is the leading rebounder and a threat for a double-double on most nights. That trio accounts for nearly 65 percent of the team's total offensive output (74.0 ppg).
Junior guard Shabazz Napier came up big in the clutch for Connecticut, scoring 23 of his career-high 29 points over the final three minutes and both overtimes to give the Huskies the win over Quinnipiac. In fact it was Napier's driving layup with four seconds remaining in regulation that tied the game at 61-61 and forced overtime.
UConn is a team that will only go so far as Napier and fellow backcourt member Ryan Boatright can take it. That looks to be pretty far based on early results. Napier's (20.8 pp, 3.2 rpg) is the team's leading scorer and has shown a knack for coming up with big plays in the most crucial spots. Boatright (14.0 ppg, 5.0 apg) is the second leading scorer on the squad but gets everyone involved with his ability to move the ball. There are no other double-figure scorers, although Omar Calhoun (9.0 ppg) and DeAndre Daniels (8.5 ppg) can certainly put up points when called upon. Rebounding has been an issue early on for the Huskies, who are suffering from a -9.5 discrepancy on the boards.