John F. Silver
Then DeAndre Daniels hit a 3-pointer, and the ball went into Shabazz Napier’s hands.
From there it was a pure joy.
Shabazz Napier scored 27 points, 11 in overtime, and once again showed his flare for the dramatic in a 73-66 overtime victory.
Napier has scored 46 points in overtimes this year in 29 minutes and is 9 of 14 from the field, 8 of 12 from 3-point range and 20 of 22 from the foul line. His per-40 minutes in overtimes this year is a ridiculous 60.27 points per game.
Now, that’s clutch.
“Shabazz was spectacular,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “Just the shots he makes in overtime. Whenever we need a big shot, he’s right there. And he has no fear.”
Napier just likes to let the game come to him, but when it is overtime, or winning time, he wants the ball in his hands.
“I just have a more aggressive attitude toward the game in overtime,” Napier said. “I feel like my team needs much more and I just want to take some shots and have confidence in my shots an just knock them down for my teammates. “
Napier’s heroics helped the Huskies improve to 18-7, 8-5 in the Big East with five games left. For Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, it was another bitter pill to swallow.
“All eight of our losses are the same,” Cronin said. “It’s Ground High Day.”
What really got Cronin going was Napier’s three overtime 3-pointers.
“The scouting report report says he’s a streaky shooter. When he made the first one, I don’t understand but not the second and third one.”
The Huskies almost didn’t get the chance to let Napier carry them. UConn saw a 37-35 halftime lead turn into a 53-49 deficit as UConn went about eight minutes without scoring in the second half.
Omar Calhoun, playing with a wrap on his right wrist hit a jumper to stem the tide. Calhoun had 10 points and six rebounds while limited. Another slid game came from DeAndre Daniels, who added 17 points. Daniels was benched early on but came back to be a factor. His 3-pointer with just over three minutes left closed the deficit to 53-52 setting up Napier’s late game heroics at the end of regulation and overtime.
“He gave us big-time minutes, big-time shots, when we were down four he hit that three,” Ollie said.
Ollie also mentioned the play of Ryan Boatright, who still struggled offensively with nine points on 3 of 12 shooting, but locked down Cincinnati’s Cashmere Wright defensively. Wright managed only 10 points on 4 of 12 shooting, and Boatright’s defense was a factor.
“He grew, he matured,” Ollie said of Boatright. “He has his head down last game because he wasn’t shooting the ball well. This game, he picked up and he took Cashmere Wright out of the game in the second half.”
Ollie wasn’t shy after the game about Napier’s play. Is the junior guard a legit Big East Player of the Year candidate?
“Yeah. Big time, he’s made plays for us,” Ollie said when asked if Napier warrants strong consideration. “We have a lot great players in our league, but he’s right there. If you do not consider him (for)Big East Player of the Year, I don’t know what they are doing and thinking of.”
Napier tried to deflect NBA talk and Player of the Year talk after the game. He has the Huskies at 18-7, 8-5 in the Big East with five games left, that’s his focus.
“I think if they had a Big east Team of the Year it should be us,” Napier said. “I think without my teammates I wouldn’t be able scoring. I wouldn’t be doing much.”