by John Bauernfeind
IU Student News Bureau
ARLINGTON, Texas – Sitting alongside Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie and his fellow starting Huskies, Ryan Boatright laid out his best Kentucky impersonation.
Saturday, Boatright and Shabazz Napier held Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin to four points on 2-of-9 shooting and one assist while forcing three turnovers. After the game, Florida coach Billy Donovan credited Boatright and Napier for putting a stranglehold on Wilbekin and the Florida offense.
When Boatright was asked what he sees in the Harrison twins, Kentucky freshmen Aaron and Andrew, and how he might go about turning them over, he composed his version of the Kentucky “tweak,” the secret that Kentucky coach John Calipari imposed on his team and none of the Wildcats will discuss.
“I ain’t going to reveal all my secrets,” Boatright said, “but I’m going to just try to do my best to turn them up and down the floor, to try to make them uncomfortable.”
Guard play for Connecticut and Kentucky became a catalyst in the national semifinal victories Saturday night. Boatright and Napier combined for 25 points, nine assists and five steals. The Harrison twins managed 17 total points and, of course, Aaron’s 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds remaining became the difference in a dramatic 74-73 victory.
Aaron Harrison laughed when asked about his burgeoning folk hero status among Kentucky fans and if he had given any thought to the fact that children might be named after him. “No, not at all,” he said. “Not really.”
“Can I say this?” Calipari said. “My daughter tweeted out she just became my second favorite ‘Aaron.’ E-r-i-n, she thought. She’s still my favorite Erin.”
Boatright, a junior from Aurora, Ill., discussed his defensive strategy.
“My main thing is making the offensive player uncomfortable,” he said. “Me being a great offensive player, and knowing I can score the ball at any level, for me, the main thing is being comfortable. So I know if someone can get me uncomfortable, it makes me frustrated.”
Connecticut senior Niels Giffey, a native of Germany, said Boatright is a confident player with an accent.
“He is a character, you can say that,” Giffey said. “He talks in his Midwestern gibberish. He is a good motivator in his own way. He can affect the game just by the energy he brings, and he isn’t afraid to show that.”
Napier was just as effective at disrupting Florida’s rhythm Saturday, generating four of Connecticut’s six steals. Teammate Omar Calhoun said Napier’s ability to stay low to the ground aids him in stopping opposing ballhandlers.
“He is so small, but he’s quick,” Calhoun said. “He can get underneath and out in front of a lot of point guards.”
Boatright and Napier are listed at 6-0 and 6-1, respectively. The Harrisons are listed at 6-6. They have competed against several teams with smaller yet quicker guards, most notably the Louisville Cardinals. The Harrisons defeated the defending national champions twice; a 73-66 victory at Lexington on December 28, and the 74-69 regional semifinal victory at Indianapolis on March 28.
In the round-of-16 victory, Aaron Harrison connected on an open 3-pointer to give Kentucky a 70-68 lead with 39 seconds to play. In the regional final against Michigan, Harrison’s contested 3-pointer from the left side gave the Wildcats a 75-72 lead with 2.3 seconds to go.
And late Saturday night against the Badgers, the decisive shot, taken from the left side, was contested.
“Of course, everyone knows when you’re a kid that you always dream about hitting the game-winning shot,” Harrison said, “so it’s just unreal to actually be able to do that in a big-time game. To win a game for your team, it is just the best feeling in the world to be able to take that last shot and get that W for your team.”
Napier, who hit a jumper as time expired to defeat then No. 15 Florida on Dec. 2, is one who can appreciate a game-winning shot in high-stakes circumstances.
“Clutch…Clutch shots, and that just shows you how great of a competitor he is because when you get in the moment, you can shy away from it,” Napier said. “You can tell yourself, ‘I don’t want to shoot this because I don’t want to miss.’ But to be successful, you have to try, and sometimes when you try you fail and you move on to the next one. He’s not worried about failing. He’s worried about doing what he believes is best for his team and that’s taking those shots and making those shots.”
Boatright acknowledged the talent that surrounded the Harrisons and the rest of the Wildcats, but said he and his teammates haven’t paid much attention. To the Huskies, Monday night will be like any regular game, the same defensive schemes, the same UConn basketball.
“We’re not taking it as an extra challenge or nothing like that,” Boatright said. “They got to lace their shoes up just like we got to.”