Feb. 22, 2013
By Scott Waggoner
For University of Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier, Thursday’s game against Cincinnati couldn’t come soon enough.
The junior had scored just two points against Villanova last Saturday and looked to make amends in UConn’s final game at the XL Center this season.
“I was anxious to give a better statement to the fans because against Villanova I think I played terrible,” Napier said. “After the Syracuse game we had so much support at the Villanova game, and for us not to come out and work hard it didn’t sit well with me.”
He made that statement on Thursday, scoring a game-high 27 points, 11 of which came in overtime, as the Huskies held off Cincinnati to win 73-66.
Napier was confident that he would be able to bounce back after a poor offensive showing against the Wildcats. UConn head coach Kevin Ollie shared that confidence.
“Shabazz is Shabazz,” said Ollie. “I knew he was going to come back and play. You saw it in the first three or four minutes he was aggressive and that’s a good thing and that’s just growing up.”
Napier is no stranger to burying opponents in overtime this season. Earlier this month against USF, he knocked down three three-pointers and totaled 11 points in overtime to help the Huskies defeat the Bulls. Thursday his overtime performance was eerily similar, and once again Napier was at his best when his team needed him the most.
“I just try and get it over with,” Napier said. “I just want to take the shots and I have the confidence in my shots and I knock them down for my teammates because I know everyone out there is tired and trying to win the game.”
Connecticut needed every bit of Napier’s points after struggling offensively for much of the second half. The Huskies managed just 18 second-half points on 30.4 percent shooting, though their defense kept them in the game.
“We weren’t able to knock down shots but also we were getting stops at the other end so that’s what kept us in the game,” Connecticut sophomore forward DeAndre Daniels said.
Daniels had one of his best all-around games scoring 17 points to go along with five rebounds. He knocked down three three-pointers, the biggest one coming with just over three minutes to go in regulation to cut Cincinnati’s lead to one, though his biggest contribution came on the defensive end, where he recorded a career-high four blocks.
“The four blocks were huge,” Ollie said. “It just kind of shows the toughness we have to control our paint and that we did have somebody down there that could hold down the fort if they did go to the rim.”
With another heroic performance added to his resume this season, Napier has played his way into the BIG EAST Player of the Year race. He has been the driving force behind a very successful first year for Ollie and has matured into a great team leader.
“We have a lot of great players in our league but he’s right there,” said Ollie, who himself should be in the conversation for BIG EAST Coach of the Year as the Huskies sit at 18-7 overall and 8-5 in the BIG EAST. “People who aren’t considering him for BIG EAST Player of the Year, I don’t know what they’re doing.”
Napier certainly deserves a ton of recognition this season, though for him winning games will always be the main focus.
“I try my best not to deal with individual awards because that’s not what I was brought up on,” Napier said. “My older brother played basketball and he never cared about individual awards so it just stuck with me. I just want to win. I am a point guard so I have to be with the team.”
The Huskies will look to build on their momentum Saturday night when they go on the road to play DePaul. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. Eastern and the game can be seen on SNY and heard on the UConn IMG Sports Radio Network.