Bazz is a bad, bad man

Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright

Shabazz Napier reacts after hitting the game-winner Monday in a 65-64 UConn win over Florida. (Jessica Hill/Associated Press)

We’re nearly out of descriptions for Shabazz Napier’s play.

The UConn guard is a maestro. To borrow a phrase, he has alligator blood in his veins.

If you missed it, well, shame on you. Napier scored 26 points, including six in the final 34 seconds with two or three miraculous plays.

His foul-line jumper at the final buzzer gave the No. 12 Huskies a 65-64 win over No. 15 Florida and sent him into a Bo Jackson or Jimmy V-style sprint off the court.

It moved UConn to 8-0 and kept an odd streak intact.

UConn hasn’t lost a November or December non-conference game in Storrs since 1973.

It’s only lost four non-conference games ever in Gampel and none since 2001.

— NAPIER’S DESCRIPTION OF the final seconds was priceless:

“I shot it and I missed it terribly,” Napier said of the first attempt out of the double team. “I was glad DeAndre (Daniels) ran to the boards. DeAndre put a hand on the ball and bounced up high. I was able to be in the right spot at the right time and I shot the ball.

“I knew it was going in. Stuff like that happens, when it comes down to the last seconds, the game seems much slower than it is. As soon as I got the ball there was like .9 seconds left. It just felt so slow, .9, .8. I tried to shoot the ball as quick as I can but at the same time shoot it regular. As soon as I let it go I felt it was going in, and then I was just running around like I didn’t just twist my ankle.”

Yes, Napier went down just moments early after his OTHER huge, ginormous shot, a 4-point play that put UConn up one with 33 seconds to go.

UConn coach Kevin Ollie had a feeling the Gators would trap Napier on the final possession. So what was the contingency plan?

“Shabazz make a play,” Ollie said.

Actually, Ollie wanted Napier to try and find Ryan Boatright or Daniels for a shot but Napier’s choice worked, too.

— OBVIOUSLY NAPIER HAS hit big shots before (Villanova, anyone?) and admits he likes the role.

“You want to be the hero. You want to be that guy at the end of the game. Who doesn’t?” Napier said. “Growing up I wanted to be Superman.”

So was he Superman Monday?

“Nah, Superman does it on his own,” Napier said. “I can’t do it without my teammates.”

— FLORIDA COACH Billy Donovan called the final sequence a “fluke play.” He was sort of right.

And Donovan credited Daniels with saving the game with the tap-back. For his part, Daniels wasn’t sure what he did.

“I don’t even know if I touched it or not. But I was really close and I almost had it. It bounced out to Shabazz and he hit that amazing shot,” Daniels said.

Told that he indeed DID touch the ball and asked if he was trying to get it back to Napier, Daniels broke into a smile.

“Yeah, I was trying to tip it to Shabazz. I think they should put that in the books as an assist.”

— FLORIDA WON THE rebound battle 34-26 but UConn got three huge offensive boards in the final minute.

The two that led up to Napier’s 4-point play were obviously key.

“Watching it on film there was no foul,” Donovan said. “But we had two opportunities to rebound the basketball. Those two offensive rebounds hurt us and I was disappointed in that.”

— UCONN IS 8-0 and on a bit of a roll. It’s still not a finished product, of course.

“We’re still finding our character and who we want to be,” Giffey said. “But as long as you’ve got Shabazz on the team it’s going to be a pretty good team.”

Ollie agreed, but with one caveat. It’s about team and about heart, he says.

“Once again we showed our resolve. We didn’t get rebounds down the stretch. We didn’t do a lot of things,” Ollie said. “But at the end of the day we got a win because it’s about our heart. We’re not the biggest team in America but man, I wouldn’t trade our heart for anybody.”

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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