Shabazz shocks ’em all

UConn's Alex Oriakhi, rear, celebrates with Shabazz Napier after Napier hit the game-winning 3-point shot against Villanova Monday in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/The Philadelphia Inquirer, Ron Cortes)

So, it was just your average down-18 and stinking…up 7 late and sort of in control…locked in a fight for your tournament life…buzzer-beating deep 3….kind of game.

Life with the UConn basketball team, no matter the season, no matter the coach, is never boring.

UConn leaves the Wells Fargo Center with a 73-70 overtime win over Villanova thanks to Shabazz Napier’s 30-footer with .6 seconds to play in the extra session.

Ho-hum.

“I had a little flashback. It was weird because in high school I used to do that a lot, I used to hit a lot of game-winners,” Napier said. “Usually I hit them from real, real deep, and I wasn’t trying to be any closer.”

UConn associate head coach George Blaney had the same feeling, sort of. Napier probably had more time to get up a closer shot, but that’s sort of what he did at the end of the Cincinnati game, too (before being trumped).

“He does that. He did it in high school and he’s done it here,” Blaney said. “He’s really good at, when he feels it, he can pull up from almost any place.”

Napier wasn’t about to regret his shot selection.

“In those situations you don’t take the best shot, you take the most open shot,” Napier said.

— Napier also threw a little monocle, bulls-eye, three-finger celebration after his big shot. It’s the same move that got teammate DeAndre Daniels in some hot water with coach Jim Calhoun early in the season.

“I hit that and I was like ‘Bulls-eye’ so I put the three’s up,” Napier said. “When that happens, you can’t in trouble for that. Those are rare.”

— Napier’s shot didn’t exactly overshadow Jeremy Lamb’s evening. Lamb scored a career-high 32 points, including UConn’s first 10 in overtime.

“He started off really slowly. He took a couple of really bad shots early,” Blaney said. “But one of the things with shooters is you have to give them a little freedom. Once he gets it going, he’s nailing almost everything.”

— In case you were wondering, no decision has been made on Calhoun’s return yet.

An Associated Press story written and posted on several websites (including UConn’s official website) indicated Calhoun would definitely return for the Huskies’ game against Syracuse.

That is not the case, however. No determination has been made, yet.

— Now, to the heart of the matter. (What? No laugh? OK, moving on).

Napier called out his teammates for a lack of heart after the Marquette loss Saturday.

“At the end of the day we definitely didn’t need that from Shabazz or from anyone,” Roscoe Smith said after Monday’s game. “But I kind of think that he knew he messed up. But, you know, as a team we didn’t have any time of judgment on him. We still accept him with open arms.”

Lamb tried to say it wasn’t a big deal.

“I don’t want to say we didn’t pay attention to it but we didn’t try to dwell on it,” Lamb said. “We just tried to come to practice and work hard to respond.”

So were Napier’s words accurate?

“Not sure. Not sure,” Lamb said matter-of-factly.

For his part, Napier shrugged it off.

“They didn’t react in any way. They understood where I was coming from. I probably said too much and you guys (reporters) probably led it to a different point,” Napier said. “But I understand. I just want my teammates to go out there and give it their all. And today they did. I can’t complain.”

Blaney said it was simply a case of Napier talking too much.

“Shabazz speaks a lot all the time. I’m not really worried about that,” Blaney said. “He’s a competitor and he wants us to do well. Sometimes he talks a little bit too much. But he’s fine and the team is fine with it. They knew in most cases he was probably right.”

— Smith’s biggest asset was his defense on Villanova’s JayVaughn Pinkston, who was 5-for-17 from the floor.

Smith said he remembered playing against Pinkston in their AAU days and used it to his advantage.

“I kind of new all the moves,” Smith said. “That made it kind of easy for me.”

— How exactly did UConn go from down 18 points to up by seven?

“We’d been playing lousy offense. I’ve been saying that for a quite a while,” Blaney said. “I just thought we got much better as the game went along.”

Neill

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About Neill

Neill Ostrout covers the UConn men's basketball team for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester. He has been a member of the "Horde" for more than 16 years.
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