RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AP) - Shabaz Napier is fairly confident that if Connecticut gets its running game going, nobody can keep up with the Huskies.
No. 14 Michigan State couldn't, falling 66-62 in the Armed Forces Classic in a hangar on the U.S. Ramstein Air Base in a game that finished at 2:30 a.m. Saturday.
Napier led all scorers with 25 points.
``We are too fast, we are a transition team and when we get going, no one can keep up with us,' Napier said. ``We just tried tio do what they did, transition. We got some easy rebounds, they came off the boards and we let them go.'
Kevin Ollie's first game and win as the Huskies' head coach was watched by former coach Jim Calhoun, who worked as play-by-play radio commentator.
After the game, UConn players and Ollie ran and embraced Calhoun, the Hall of Famer who retired in September.
``He's always been by my side and I appreciate him so much,' Ollie said. ``He told me don't lay on this, build on it and continue to make them play hard. It's a great win for our program, for the new era. A lot of people could have quit but they stayed here for what Coach Calhoun built.'
Ollie has been given only a one-year contract with a team that returns just five players who saw significant playing time last season.
UConn led most of the way and by as many as 16 points in the first half of the game.
``We executed the game plan and the game plan was to play hard. We stepped up to the plate, we took the challenge and we came up with a victory,' Ollie said.
Keith Appling scored 17 points and Branden Dawson had 15 points and 10 rebounds for Michigan State.
Gary Harris scored to pull the Spartans to 62-60, but Denzel Valentine and Appling each missed a shot in the last minute that would have tied the game, forcing Michigan State to foul.
Napier hit four free throws in the final 13 seconds to seal the win.
Ryan Boatright had 13 points, despite rolling his ankle in the second half, and DeAndre Daniels added 12 for the Huskies.
The 14th-ranked Spartans hit just one of their first eight shots, while Connecticut made nine of its first 10, and raced out to a 20-6 lead on a 3-pointer from Napier.
A steal by Napier and a lob to Ryan Boatright made it 32-18 Huskies, who stretched that to 16. The Spartans closed the half on a 10-2 run, but trailed 40-33 at intermission.
Boatright rolled his left ankle less that 3 minutes into the second half and was hobbled the rest of the game.
The Huskies, who shot 46 percent while holding the Spartans to 40 percent, won despite being outrebounded 34-25.
``We did a very poor job of rotating players,' Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
The Huskies, who finished last season a disappointing 20-14 a year after winning the program's third national title, are picked to finish ninth in the Big East this season and are academically ineligible for the Big East and NCAA tournaments.
This is the first season that someone other than Calhoun has been the head coach since Dom Perno coached his final game in 1986.
Three UConn players hail from Germany. Neils Giffey scored three points and Enosch Wolf had two. Leon Tolksdorf did not play.
Michigan State lost its second consecutive opener after winning 33 of its previous 34. The Spartans lost last season to North Carolina in another military tribute game, the Carrier Classic.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved