HARTFORD, Conn. – In basketball today, especially in the NBA, the idea of the “Big Three” on a team has become a popular concept. In recent years, whether it was Boston’s combination of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and former Husky Ray Allen, or more recently, Miami’s LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, the “Big Three” has become a blueprint for success.
At Connecticut, the three-guard combination of Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun may be emerging as a “Big Three” for the Huskies. They aren’t the three biggest guys on the court, but this is a matter of production – not size.
In an 88–73 win over Fordham on Friday night, the trio of Napier, Boatright and Calhoun combined for 62 of UConn’s 88 points. They also combined for 17 assists and eight steals. Although they have been playing well as a unit, Napier said one of the three played better than the rest Friday.
“Basically, Boatright,” Napier said. “I think he’s been playing great defense… he’s that energy.”
Boatright had a career night against Fordham, leading UConn (9-2) with 26 points on 9 of 14 shooting from the floor. He also had nine assists and three steals. The points and assists were career highs for Boatright, who played 35 minutes.
“He’s playing good basketball,” coach Kevin Ollie said. “He’s getting the ball in good spots. He’s shooting the ball particularly well. . . . We want him to shoot or catch, get out on the break and continue to do the different things he’s been doing.”
Napier had 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists and Calhoun added 17 points and two assists. Napier, Boatright and Calhoun combined for 42 points in the first half alone and UConn led Fordham 57-28 at the break.
In their last five games, UConn’s “Big Three” has averaged a combined 44 points per game. The three guards are also leading the team in scoring with Napier averaging 16.8 points per game, Boatright 16.1 and Calhoun averaging 10.9.
“The more we play together, the better we’re going to get,” Boatright said.
Although it was a comfortable victory for UConn, Fordham (2-9) gave the Huskies a scare in the second half, going on an early 17-0 run that cut the lead to 13 points. Branden Frazier led the Rams in scoring with 26 points and five assists. Chris Gaston produced 11 points and six rebounds for the Rams.
“We played the scoreboard, just came out flat,” Boatright said about UConn’s 31-point second half performance. “We didn’t come out with the intensity that we had in the first half and it showed.”
The Rams will play just their second home game of the season this Sunday against Siena. Combined with an injury that kept Gaston out of six games recently, Fordham has yet to show the improvement many observers expected.
“Maybe some home cooking will be helpful,” said coach Tom Pecora on his team’s road struggles.
The Huskies may have won by 15 points, but once again they struggled with rebounding, the biggest area of concern with this team. The Rams finished with a 40-28 advantage on the boards.
“Everybody in the country knows we’re not as big as we’ve been in past years, so we’ve got to work around it and find ways to still win games,” Boatright said.
UConn compensated with 15 steals. Fordham turned the ball over 21 times and the Huskies took advantage, scoring 35 points off of those turnovers.
“In the second half, they dominated us on the backboards,” Ollie said. “But we did some things to mask it, like we’ve been doing – 15 steals, we made them commit 21 turnovers – but I wasn’t happy with our second half performance.”
UConn has just one non-conference game remaining (Dec. 29 vs. Washington) before Big East play begins Jan. 1 at Marquette.
”We can’t go out and get Patrick Ewing,” Ollie said. “He’s not around. We’re going to have to go with the guys we got and we’re going to have to keep believing in them. We’re going to keep coaching them. We’re going to keep demanding the different things we demand. But nobody is transferring here for the second half of the season. It’s a work in progress.”