UConn coach Kevin Ollie wanted to switch up something in the Huskies’ third game against Memphis this season, so he gave senior Niels Giffey only his eighth start.
Giffey paid off his coach’s move by scoring a career-high 24 points, including six 3-pointers, as No. 21 UConn finished off a season sweep of 19th-ranked Memphis by routing the Tigers 72-53 Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament.
“I wanted to get Niels out there so he can spread the floor and give more space to our guards …,” Ollie said. “Niels made me look like I was a good coach. So, thank you, Niels.”
The fourth-seeded Huskies (25-7) now have won four of their past five, and a team that was barred from the Big East tournament last year will be playing No. 13 Cincinnati, a 61-58 winner over UCF, in the semifinals Friday night.
Memphis (23-9) played as a visitor on its own court as the league’s No. 5 seed where the Tigers had won 15 straight conference tournament games dating back to 2005 in Conference USA. But they struggled mightily in their fourth consecutive game against a ranked team.
Coach Josh Pastner called the loss embarrassing.
“We played not to lose,” Pastner said. “You can’t win if you play not to lose. That was my whole halftime speech, the whole talk. `Guys, we’re playing timid. We’re looking like we’re paralyzed out there. A lot of things we’re doing, we’ve got a glaze over our eyes.'”
DeAndre Daniels had 13 points for UConn. Shabazz Napier, the American’s player of the year, and Ryan Boatright each finished with 11.
Memphis senior guard Joe Jackson, a two-time tournament MVP in Conference USA, and Chris Crawford both finished with 10 points.
The Huskies rebounded nicely from being routed themselves 81-48 last weekend at Louisville. But then UConn does have experience too when it comes to conference tournaments, having won the Big East a record seven times with the last in 2011 when the Huskies also won the national championship.
Giffey compared this to that Louisville game with Memphis having a home crowd with the Huskies knowing they had to give the Tigers something different.
“We had to stick to certain points we were emphasizing,” Giffey said. “That was rebounding and getting back in transition. I think we did that.”
They caught Memphis repeatedly trying to double-team the ball only to find the open shooter over and over again. Giffey hurt Memphis so much that fans were yelling trying to alert the Tigers to stop leaving him open. Giffey finished 9 of 11 overall and was 6 of 8 beyond the arc while also grabbing nine rebounds.
Napier credited Memphis’ defense with doubling on pick and rolls helping leave Giffey open.
“He’s been the greatest shooter that we’ve had this whole year,” Napier said. “If you leave him open – which is kind of astonishing. Coming into this, a lot of people in the country know Niels Giffey as a shooter. But the way they play defense, they double a lot and leave shooters open, and we’re not afraid to pass the ball at all.”
His teammates shot nearly as well as he did from there. UConn was 50 percent beyond the arc (10 of 20) and was a smidge better for the game (27 of 51) at 52.9 percent.
Maybe it was the nerves of playing on their own court, but the Tigers shot poorly all over the floor.
The Tigers shot a season-worst 26.4 percent (14 of 53) and hit only six shots in the first half. They got to the free throw line after attempting only nine in an 86-81 overtime loss at UConn on Feb. 15 but wound up hitting more at the line (20 of 37) than they did field goals as they split their attempts most trips no matter how much fans tried to will them to buckets by standing and cheering.
UConn led by as much as 25, and it would have been worse if UConn hadn’t cooled off too in the second half. Memphis never threatened to trim the lead as the Tigers went nearly 10 minutes between buckets before a 3-pointer by Nick King with 4:20 left.
Geron Johnson’s 3-pointer gave Memphis its last lead at 4-3. Then Daniels put UConn ahead to stay with a 3 with 16:03 left, and the Huskies built that lead to as much as 14 when Boatright hit yet another 3 just before halftime for a 41-27 lead.
SOURCE: The Associated Press
Teresa M. Walker