The Huskies arrived in their locker room to find the simplest of messages on the chalkboard: "Find a way."
"That, to me, means find a way to help your team even if you're not scoring," Shabazz Napier said. "Find a way to get a rebound. It was kind of ironic. All the little things we did added up to big things, and it was all summed up by 'find a way.' "
The Huskies were outrebounded again, they gave up a couple of leads, had foul trouble and allowed too many fast-break points, but in the end they found a way to beat Wake Forest 77-71 in the first round of the Paradise Jam.
"Call us the New York Knicks," coach Kevin Ollie said, in reference to the NBA's last unbeaten team. "They're getting outrebounded and winning every game."
UConn (3-0) will play the winner of the Quinnipiac-Iona game in the semifinals on Sunday at 9 p.m.
The Huskies were trailing 52-49 when Napier scored his first points, a driving layup with 10 minutes, 6 seconds left. They went on an 11-0 run, Napier scoring eight of the points, to take the lead for good. Napier, who finished with 16, was scoreless in the first half vs. Vermont last Tuesday and came on in the second half, a pattern UConn could do without.
"Shabazz showed up the last 10 minutes, and I'm glad he did," Ollie said, "but we can't have that. I just keep telling him, 'There's no guard in America that's better than you. Some may be just as good, but no one's better.' "
The most surprising, and perhaps the most important, development was the emergence of Enosch Wolf , who came in when Tyler Olander got his second foul midway through the first half. Wolf scored 12 points, getting six rebounds, in 25 minutes. For much of the second half, Ollie left Wolf in because he was playing so well.
"It felt like we had a presence out there down the stretch," Ollie said. "It felt like we had a big man out there, and it was a good feeling."
Wolf played deftly under the basket but put UConn ahead for good with a jump shot from 18 feet out with 9:40 left in the game. "We definitely didn't cover him enough in the scouting report," said Travis McKie, who scored 16 for Wake Forest.
With Napier now on a roll, the Huskies eventually extended that lead to 10, 65-55, and then held off the Deacons (1-1) down the stretch. They used four guards to prevent the three-point shot, as Ollie did in the big win over Michigan State in Germany last week.
"I'm just glad I have a coach who trusts me, who believes in me," Napier said.
And in the end, it was UConn's guards who made the difference. Ryan Boatright also scored 16 points. They combined to go 19 of 24 from the free-throw line.
UConn came out of the box playing tough defense but struggling on offense. Still, the Huskies had a 16-8 lead in the early going.
Wake Forest began shooting better and took the lead 23-22 on Devin Thomas' lay-in. Freshman Codi Miller-McIntyre, who scored 13 in the first half, hit a jumper to extend the Deacons' lead to three. Miller-McIntyre finished with 21 points.
By then, Olander was in foul trouble, limited to four minutes in the first half, and UConn turned to Wolf, who played only one minute against Vermont, to stabilize the middle. DeAndre Daniels, too, was productive, hitting all four of his first-half shots, scoring 10. UConn steadied and grabbed a four-point lead at the half.
Wake Forest surged again and opened a three-point lead at 52-49 with 10:14 to go.
"We have seven freshmen on our team, and we had four on the floor at one time," Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "And at times, we played like freshmen, [doing things] you can't do against an experienced, ranked team like UConn."
UConn has been outrebounded in all of its games (32-27 against Wake Forest). UConn made up for it by hustling for loose balls, especially during the 11-0 run.
"But we got the crucial rebounds, the rebounds we needed to get." Napier said.
And Wake Forest, after early problems, broke loose to outscore UConn 16-8 on the fast break, and the Deacons shot 49 percent, the best of any UConn opponent so far.