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November 23, 2013
Napier Leads Huskies
Shabazz Napier Saves the Day
Is it a cop out for me to say the turning point was with 8 seconds left when Yogi Ferrell's game winning jumper missed? Following this shot, a scramble ensued for the basketball and left Indiana with only 0.7 seconds left to try and win the game. While it may seem like the easy answer, really, it is true. This game was back and forth, up and down for the last ten minutes. With 6:56 left to go, the game was tied 45-45. From then until the end, Indiana went up five points at one point and the game saw nine lead changes. This was an instant classic that went to, literally, the last second. A big win for UConn, 59-58, was the final score between these two blue blood programs.
What Went Right
Shabazz Napierput himself squarely in the National Player of the Year conversation. Napier has cemented himself as a UConn great with a flair for the dramatic. Napier was fantastic, shooting 10-14 from the field and making all the plays when UConn needed them most. As the game wore on, he stepped away from the wild jumpers, but focused on driving to the hoop, getting fouled, and dishing to open players. Napier showed his incredible value to the team tonight.
UConn's defense was impeccable. With only a few breakdowns, Indiana fought for every point the entire night. Blocked shots, steals, and forced jumpers were a theme throughout the night. For the last few minutes, new Husky, Lasan Kromah played stifling defense on Ferrell, forcing him away from screens. With this, Ferrell was forced to be more than a shooter, not his strong point.
If you look back at the biggest UConn games over time, a common theme runs: the opposing team's star in foul trouble. Noah Vonleh looked to be a matchup nightmare for UConn. Due to three offensive fouls (two of which were moving screens), Vonleh played only ten minutes, attempting one shot, scoring zero points. Do not be surprised to see UConn attack stars into tough decisions come March (yes, I expect this team in the NCAA tournament).
What Went Wrong
If Napier is not incredible, UConn loses this game. Beyond him, the offense was stagnant. The night after his most dominant performance, this season, DeAndre Daniels was unable to be his assertive self. Credit Indiana for consistently double teaming Daniels in the post, but he needs to make quicker decisions to pass out and find the open man or get into his move quicker. UConn has scoring and shooting talent outside of Shabazz, but it did not show tonight.
Ryan Boatright's scoring is lost. On the season, Boatright is shooting 41%, missing a number of shoots within the close vicinity of the basket. While he has passed well and protected the ball better, Boatright must stay a consistent scoring threat to keep defenses from being able to double Daniels, hound Niels Giffey on the perimeter, and keep defenses focus all over the court. If Boatright can play with smarts and consistency, WATCH OUT!
Napier versus Ferrell was a matchup of two fantastic players. At the end of the game, winners show up. Shabazz proved his mettle tonight. When the game got tough, Kevin Ollie showed the fight needed. Giffey's diving for a loose ball and Kromah's steal with under 30 seconds to play are the types of plays that win games. Without this effort and Shabazz's clutch shooting, UConn goes down.
Three Stars of the Game
1. Shabazz Napier is the pretty obvious choice. He was spectacular. Napier hit big shot after shot. Whenever Indiana went on a run, Napier answered. In addition to the 27 points, Napier was efficient from the field, shooting 10-14 on the night. He added five assists, including the kick out to Daniels for an enormous three-point field goal with 3:32 to go and continued the strong effort on the glass with five rebounds.
2. Without another offensive star (no one else reached double digits), Lasahn Kromah is the choice. Kromah's defense was superb, proving how fantastic his pickup is for the team. His half court defense on Ferrell made the Indiana point guards second half very difficult. After a Napier miss from three with 38 seconds, Kromah hustled for a quick steal giving UConn a chance to ice the game. While it did not go according to plan, it did make the lack of time difficult for Indiana to manage.
3. Tyler Olander What a fall for Olander. After scoring the first baskets in both final four games of the Kemba Walker magical season, Olander has fallen a bit out of favor. However, with Phil Nolan and Amidah Brimah in foul trouble, Olander was forced into 24 minutes of action. He played strong defensively, rebounded, and took smart shots. UConn's bigs are definitely a weakness, but if one of these trio can rebound and defend each night, the Huskies have a chance.
What a couple of days for UConn. The basketball team took the 2K Sports Classic; the Men's Soccer team won its opening NCAA tournament game 2-1 against Quinnipiac and moving on to play UMBC in the next round; the Field Hockey team took down #2 overall seed, UNC in the national semifinals and will play Duke for the National Championship on Sunday.