John F. Silver
When speaking to reporters after UConn’s satisfying 65-58 win over then No. 17 Notre Dame in South Bend the junior point guard brushed off the snub.
That comes with the territory for the UConn men’s basketball team.
A team that is not eligible for the postseason because of a poor Academic Progress Rating won’t get any break when it comes to national awards or rankings.
The Huskies and Napier have to do it the hard way – by forcing others to notice.
They can do that tonight when the Huskies host Louisville (15-1, 3-0), which could be ranked as high as No. 1 in the country in the AP poll released later on Monday.
The Huskies, (12-3, 2-1) in the Big East are a lot like there leading scorer and rebound in the 6-0 foot Napier – under appreciated.
Napier is having a stellar junior season where he has improved across the board on offense increasing his scoring average to 17.5 points, rebounds to 4.5 and cutting his turnovers down decisively.
Napier, who was known early in his career as a loose cannon who could win a game and also lose it with questionable decision-making, is averaging less than two turnovers a game. He has only 24 turnovers this season with 24 with seven of that coming in one game in an uncharacteristic seven turnovers in the win over Washington on Dec. 29.
Napier has continued his high level of play with 35 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists with only one turnover playing 74 of 80 minutes in the Huskies last two games. That’s coming off a 29-point performance in 44 minutes with three turnovers in an overtime loss to Marquette.
For the season, Napier is also shooting 44.8 percent from the floor and 40.8 percent from 3-point range. He’s handling the load like the Huskies need.
UConn coach Kevin Ollie has raved about Napier’s play at times, but it would seem to be to no avail nationally.
“He’s one of those guys that takes the challenge,” Ollie said after Saturday’s win according to the Journal Inquirer. “He loves the big plays, he loves the big shots. He’s not scared of fear. He’s willing to go out and grab success. He’s not scared of the moment.”
Another moment will come tonight when Napier matches up with top guard in Louisville’s Peyton Siva. Siva was on the Cousy top 20 list and is one of the fastest players in the country averaging 11.6 points and 4.8 assists per game.
The Cardinals like to play a full-court pressure game and are second in the nation in turnover margin at +7.8 turnovers per game. Opponents are averaging 20.7 turnovers per game as the Cardinals are one of the more dominant teams in the nation physically. Russ Smith is leading the Cardinals in scoring at 18.7 points per game while center Gorgui Deng is a load inside at 9.6 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
The Cardinals like to turn teams over, crash the boards and get in transition.
Napier will be tasked with handling that pressure and if the season has shown anything thus far, Napier’s ready for it.
The Huskies have few chances to impress America. If UConn can pull the upset tonight there will be no ignoring Napier and the Huskies anymore.