UConn men: As Napier goes, so do the Huskies

Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier looks to pass during the first half of Connecticut’s 73-62 victory over Stony Brook in an NCAA college basketball game in Storrs, Conn., Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. Nappier scored a game-high 19 in the victory. (AP Photo/Fred Beckham)

John F. Silver

STORRS, Conn. – UConn point guard Shabazz Napier didn’t have to be told what he did in the first half against Stony Brook on Sunday night.

Players know their numbers and Napier knew exactly how little he produced in the first half against the Seawolves: Four points on two shots, both uncontested layups in transition.

Napier is the leading scorer at over 20 points per game and the Huskies found themselves down five. That wasn’t a coincidence.

When the Huskies came into the half the coaches went over to Napier and asked him what the other 8,474 fans in Gampel Pavilion wanted to know – what’s going on?

“I knew, I knew (chuckles),” Napier said of his two first half shots on Sunday. “It wasn’t even two shots it was two lay-ups. I don’t know what the first half means. The coaches are asking me the same question. Today, our plays weren’t based for me.”

Maybe that’s the answer, or perhaps the Huskies need Napier to get more aggressive. In any event, the Huskies can’t have Napier only take two shots in a half.

The junior guard more than made up for it in the second half on Sunday.

Napier scored 15 of his game-high 19 points in the second half as the Huskies turned a five-point halftime deficit into as much as a 14-point lead to down Stony Brook 73-62 in Storrs.

The first half was the bad Napier. That’s when the guard is not aggressive on offense and doesn’t look to score. Predictably, the scoring-challenged Huskies also struggled, which UConn (5-1) did as it opened up 1 for 12 shooting and shot 32.3 percent from the floor and trailed 31-26.

Napier got going in the second half. He was 3 of 5 shooting from 3-point range and was 6 of 7 from the foul line. Predictably, the Huskies’ offense started to hum as it shot a torrid 63.6 percent in the second half including 8 of 11 from 3-point range.

“I’d rather him late than never,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said. “I appreciate his effort, appreciate him staying in the game and hitting some big shots for us and propelling us to a win.

UConn’s hit its last eight 3-point attempts in the final 10 minutes as it blew the Seawolves off the floor.

It came out of nowhere from a team that has struggled shooting this season.

“They got on a run and they made threes,” Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell said. “That’s not what they’ve been doing.”

The catalyst was Napier,. His first 3-pointer came at the 10:44 mark of the half as it put the Huskies ahead for good at 42-39. UConn would hit its next seven 3-pointers including a 4-point play from Napier at the 4:17 mark for a 61-47 lead.

“As soon as I made it, I felt like it was our ball game,” Napier said. “I always think it’s our ball game, but everyone else was excited and enthusiastic.”

Napier was joined in the barrage by a career-high 15 points and eight rebounds from Niels Giffey and 13 points from Omar Calhoun.

Those are numbers the Huskies need this season. It’s Napier scoring that is going to keep UConn competitive.

Napier has the habit of being invisible in one half before exploding in the next.  His ability to score in bunches is what makes the 5-11 guard so valuable. His ability to disappear and become passive is what frustrates the coaching staff.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Ollie said of the inconsistency. “I’m glad he picked it up in the second half once again and gave us a spark. But, we would like to see it for 40 minutes.”

For right now the Huskies have to settle for flurries from Napier and considering he is averaging 20.9 points a game through six games –five wins – that will do for right now.

“I think it’s the flow of the game,” Napier said. “If I am able to get a shot, the I will take the shot. The first half I wasn’t getting the ball that much in a sense. We weren’t playing our game in the first half. That’s why Coach Ollie was ripping into us at the half. He didn’t like the way we played.”

Early this season, one great half from Napier has been good enough.

As the schedule gets tougher, they are going to need more out of their lead guard.