UConn cruises to 13th straight win
Shabazz Napier was battling a fever, had just one assist and six turnovers while watching an 18-point Connecticut lead shrink to eight on Monday night.
Then he decided to take over.
Napier scored seven points in an 11-2 run that put the game away and the fourth-ranked Huskies went on to beat Wagner 78-66, the 13th consecutive victory for the defending national champions.
Napier, who finished with 21 points, said his teammates were slowing the game down, and he decided enough was enough.
''I was just like, gimme, gimme, gimme, and I took (the ball) and I laid it up with my left hand,'' he said. ''Those times, that's when I tell myself I've got to do something now, so Coach won't stress upon my teammates.''
Jeremy Lamb added 20 points and seven rebounds for the Huskies (2-0), who have never lost a game at Gampel Pavilion during the months of November or December.
Latif Rivers scored 11 points and Tyler Murray added 10, all in the first half, for Wagner (1-1).
After outrebounding Columbia by just two and being outrebounded 20-10 on the offensive end in their season opener, the Huskies made crashing the boards a point of emphasis in this one. They outrebounded Wagner 42-24, including 18-11 on the offensive end.
''Coach said we have to rebound better and I definitely think the frontcourt did a pretty good job of that,'' said Alex Oriakhi, who had eight points and nine rebounds. ''We limited (their) second shots and things like that and it definitely helped our fast break and it helped our offense.''
Wagner committed 28 fouls, and UConn hit 31 of 43 free throws.
Murray had seven quick points and Wagner used a 7-0 run to take an early 11-8 lead.
Two blocked shots by UConn freshman Andre Drummond got the crowd into the game, but the Huskies led just 22-20 with 7:46 left in the first half. A couple of old-fashioned three-point plays stretched the lead to eight, and a 3-pointer by Lamb made it 35-23. That was part of a 20-8 run that sent UConn into halftime up 41-28.
The Huskies opened the lead to 18 early in the second half, before Wagner made its run.
Consecutive 3-pointers by Josh Thompson and Rivers and two free throws by Rivers cut the lead to 61-53 with just under 8 minutes left in the game.
''We just tried to fight back possession by possession,'' Murray said. ''We got it down to eight, right where we wanted to be.''
But Napier and Lamb took over, scoring the next nine Husky points and UConn stretched the lead back to 15. UConn held on from there, hitting eight free throws over the last 3:11.
The Huskies have not lost since the end of the 2010-11 regular season, after last spring's 11-0 run to their third national championship.
Freshman DeAndre Daniels had 11 points for UConn and Drummond, who did not score in the opener, added eight.
''In the first game, I was thinking too much about what I was going to do,'' Drummond said. ''I think I'm getting more rhythm not. I think we're coming together as a team.''
Napier played 35 minutes and Lamb all 40, running the point when Napier was resting. UConn is still without freshman point guard Ryan Boatright, who is awaiting an eligibility decision from the NCAA.
''I don't have any information except that I'm being told not to play him,'' coach Jim Calhoun said. ''We do need that other guy that can go by people.''
The last time UConn lost a regular-season game in Storrs before Jan. 1 was in 1973, a span of 101 games.
Wagner came in with a veteran team that returned all five starters from last season. The Seahawks have not beaten a ranked team since 1978, when they upset Alabama.
The Seahawks forced 19 turnovers after getting 28 in their win over Princeton.
Connecticut improves to 5-0 against Wagner, a team the Huskies had not played since 2002.
Wagner coach Dan Hurley played under UConn assistant George Blaney at Seton Hall.
Wagner has not started a season 2-0 in six years, and was looking to win consecutive road games for the first time since February 2009.
UConn has won 35 consecutive non-conference home games.