No. 21 UConn sweeps No. 19 Memphis with 72-53 win
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Memphis coach Josh Pastner was pretty succinct in describing his team’s ragged performance in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament.
“We stunk,” Pastner said. “No other way to look at it.”
Most Tiger faithful would think that was an understatement from their usually upbeat coach.
In a performance hardly indicative of their No. 19 ranking, the Tigers got down early, fell victim to bad defense on Connecticut’s outside shooting and never had much of a chance losing 72-53 to the 21st-ranked Huskies on Thursday night.
“It was a bad performance,” said Pastner adding he takes “full responsibility” for the loss.
Memphis struggled in just about every phase of the game. Two of their four senior guards — Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford — led the Tigers in scoring with 10 each. No other Tiger was in double figures as Memphis (23-9) shot a season-worst 26.4 percent and matched their lowest point total in a game this year.
But the most shocking part was Memphis allowing UConn senior Niels Giffey, who entered the game averaging 8 points a game, to have wide open looks. He converted 9 of 11 shots, including 6 of 8 from outside the arc, en route to a career-high 24 points.
DeAndre Daniels added 13 for the Huskies (25-7), the tournament’s fourth seed. Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier, the American’s player of the year, had 11 each.
Even the Huskies were surprised at the Memphis defense and their willingness to double-team the ball and provide open looks for Giffey.
“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.”
UConn coach Kevin Ollie wanted to provide a different look in the Huskies’ third game against Memphis this season, so he gave senior Giffey only his eighth start.
“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.”
Giffey hurt Memphis so much that fans were yelling trying to alert the Tigers to stop leaving him open, and gasping when he got the ball with no defender within arm’s length.
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.
“I did not see this one coming,” Pastner said. “We had a great week of practice. Guys were ready to play. They were fired up. I just did not see this coming.
“I felt the first half -- the majority of the game, but especially the first half -- we played not to lose, instead of playing to win. And when you play not to lose, against a really good team, you end up losing.”
UConn led by as much as 25, and it would have been worse if the Huskies hadn’t cooled off 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.
“We just played timid,” Pastner said. “Just one of those things.”