Shabazz: 'They Thought They Were Fab Five' (w/video)
According to Shabazz Napier, the Aztecs apparently had some of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose & Co.’s brashness and cockiness in Thursday’s West regional semifinal bout.
“They thought they were the Fab Five out there,” Napier said. “We don’t talk much, we just go out there and play.”
The Aztecs’ chippiness hurt them, too. Just over four minutes into the game their best player, sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard, picked up a technical foul for jawing with UConn forward Alex Oriakhi. Leonard had just been called for a foul on Oriakhi away from the ball and continued jawing with him until referee Patrick Adams hit him with the ‘T.’
“I set a pick for Jeremy (Lamb), and he tried to run me over me,” Oriakhi explained. “I told him, ‘Calm down,’ and he just kept talking. He was able to get a technical, and that’s exactly what I wanted. I wanted to get into his head a little bit, have him get a technical.”
What did Leonard say to Oriakhi?
"It was personal," Leonard said.
With two quick fouls Leonard, who averaged a team-best 15.6 points per game and had four points and three rebounds in the first four minutes, went to the bench. He returned about four minutes later, and though the Aztecs still led when he came back, his foul trouble throughout the game limited Leonard to 29 minutes.
“He’s a good player,” said Oriakhi. “For us to have him on the bench with foul trouble, it helps us out.”
Later, Jamaal Franklin was hit with a ‘T’ after bumping into Kemba Walker and sending him to the ground as Walker made his way to the huddle during a timeout. Replays seemed to indicate Walker did a bit of flopping, but he disagreed.
“The contact was definitely enough to go down,” Walker said. “That’s why I was able to get the free throws.”
Walker’s freebies cut UConn’s deficit in half to two (53-51) with 9:19 to play.
As expected, the crowd was hugely pro-San Diego State, which sits just 90 miles south of the Honda Center.
“It definitely helped them,” Napier said. “The beginning of the second half, I was like, ‘We’re going to beat them, they look dead.’ I just forgot they had the home-court advantage. As soon as they got that boost from their fans … that was a great advantage for him. But we have great players in Kemba and Jeremy, and they just took over at the end.”
If the overwhelmingly pro-San Diego State crowd wasn’t enough to fuel the UConn men’s basketball team’s “us-vs.-the-world” mentality Thursday night, a perceived lack of national respect may have done the trick.
In a Tweet a few hours before the Huskies’ West regional semifinal bout with the Aztecs, sophomore forward Alex Oriakhi noted: “ESPN claims UConn is ‘overachieving’ … sorry for winning.”
With apologies to Charlie Sheen, “winning” is all the Huskies seem to do these days.
Odds and Ends
*** Charles Okwandu left the game for a while and had to get two stitches to his lower lip. He returned later, but contributed no points or rebounds in nine minutes.
*** Walker's 36 were his most ever in an NCAA tourney game and his 11th 30-point or more effort of this season. He and Lamb combined for 81.1 percent of UConn's scoring.
Lamb's 24 matched his career high (Jan. 24 at Marquette).