College basketball, in its purest form, is a beautiful game.
Student-athletes push themselves for more than just a paycheck, as pride and love are the biggest of motivators. Pep bands make for a game-day ambiance unlike any other. That is, until student sections prove once again why they are among the most passionate fans in sports.
However, if you were looking for an example of a beautiful game being played beautifully, Saturday's contest between UConn and conference foe Cincinnati wasn't it.
It's not hard to describe a game where two teams combine to shoot 29 percent from the field. You can call it ugly, you can call it boring, you can call it bad.
We're going to call it defensive.
The matchup oozed old-school Big East nostalgia, as this was more of a battle than a basketball game.
It was never going to be a game with scores in the 90s. Heck, the scores were never going to hit the 60s, which is something UConn head coach Kevin Ollie told his team to be prepared for.
"I told the guys before the game that there were going to be some droughts scoring," Ollie said during his postgame press conference. "But you can't have any droughts on the defensive end or with your energy and your effort. All night, if you watch the game closely there were no letdowns in that part.
"We pretty much told them it was going to be 90 percent punches and 10 percent plays," he continued. "It wasn't going to be a lot of X's and O's this game. There were going to be a lot of punches thrown, and thank God we threw the last punch and got out with a victory."
The punches almost became much less metaphorical in the second half, as Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin had to be restrained by players and assistant coaches after a call by the legendary Ted Valentine, more affectionately known as "TV Teddy."
Cronin's intensity was matched in every way by both teams, especially on the defensive end.
UConn's biggest success came in its handling of Bearcats star Sean Kilpatrick, who finished the day with 16 points on just 4-of-16 shooting.
"We had to load up," said junior guard Ryan Boatright. "We knew Sean was going to come in and score. He puts up a lot of shots. Our thing was to load up and make somebody else beat us. We weren't going to let him come out and go for 30 or 26. Somebody else was going to have to beat us."
Kilpatrick's main rival for conference player of the year, Shabazz Napier turned in a vintage performance, as the senior guard finished with a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds in what his final game in UConn's second home, the XL Center.
"It's quite emotional," said Napier. "It just hit me. Actually, my last free throw I smiled because it just hit me...I was just talking to myself, 'You know what, this might be my last shot at XL'...I just smiled."
Napier and the Huskies will say farewell to UConn's main home, Harry A. Gampel Pavilion, on Senior Night Wednesday when they host conference foe Rutgers.
All quotes were obtained firsthand.
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