Monday, February 20, 2012

Shabazz Has Pizzazz

Busy couple of days for Shabazz Napier. On Saturday, he publicly lambasted his teammates for lacking heart. On Sunday, he missed practice after re-aggravating a strained ligament in his right foot, and appeared "highly doubtful" to play Monday vs. Villanova.

About four minutes before the game, it was decided Napier could play. He didn't start the game, but he sure did finish it -- with a 30-foot 3-pointer that scorched the nets with 0.6 seconds left to play, giving UConn a badly-needed, 73-70 win.

All in a couple days' work.

Here's what Napier had to say about his injury:

“(Trainer James Doran said on Monday morning) it was highly doubtful (I'd play). I told him, give me some pills, some Ibuprofen, and I think I’ll be alright. It was still hurting, but I was able to play with it. I didn’t play at 100-percent, but I played enough.”

"I told my teammates, 'If I can get out there, no excuses.'"

On his game-winner:

“I looked up, I saw Jeremy had his hands up in the air, but I was like, ‘I’ve gotta take this last shot.’

"I had a flashback. I used to do that a lot in high school, a lot of game-winners. Usually I hit them from real, real deep. I just shot it, and I was able to make the shot."

“In that situation, you don’t take the best shot, you take the most open shot. (Dominic) Cheek was playing me far back. If I got a little closer, he might have come up.”

And, of course, on how his teammates reacted to his postgame quotes:

“They react in their own way. They understood where I was coming from. I probably said too much, and you guys (the media) probably led it to a different point, but I understand. I just want my teammates to go out there and give there all. Today, they did. I can’t complain. We had a lot of problems today, and we stuck with it.”

Never good when we're called "you guys." But I digress ...

His teammates didn't completely understand where Napier was coming from.

“At the end of the day, we definitely didn’t need that from Shabazz, or from anyone," said Roscoe Smith. "But, I kind of think he knew that he messed up. But, as a team, as a unit, we didn’t have any type of judgment on him. We still accept him with open arms, continue to keep our heads up.”

Added Jeremy Lamb: “The team looked at it as, ‘Let’s just respond.’ We didn’t try to dwell on it.”

Asked if Napier's criticism was accurate, Lamb simply said: "Not sure, not sure.”

Said George Blaney: "Shabazz speaks a lot, all the time. (His teammates) knew, in most cases, he was probably right."

*** Lamb, obviously, steppe dup big time with a career-best 32 points, including 10 of UConn's 13 in overtime.

"I think No. 3 was just OK tonight," Blaney dead-panned.

“Jeremy played terrific,” Napier said. “I think he could play like that most of the time. Today, he had to go the extra step, because I wasn’t 100-percent. Once he saw that, I think he really went at it and had to be an offensive threat.”

Roscoe Smith finished with seven points and five rebounds but dozens of hustle plays, including a huge play with 25.8 seconds left in OT when he fought Pinkston for a rebound and knocked it off the Villanova forward out-of-bounds, keeping the ball in UConn’s possession after a Ryan Boatright missed free throw. Lamb followed by knocking down a pair of freebies to give the Huskies a 69-66 lead.

Andre Drummond added eight points and 11 boards for the Huskies.

It’s worth noting that Villanova (11-16, 4-11) was without the services of its leading scorer, Maalik Wayns, who’s out with a sprained MCL in his right knee. The short-handed Wildcats had squandered a 20-point lead to Notre Dame two days earlier, also losing in overtime by a 74-70 tally.

It’s also worth noting that the first 12 minutes of the game were unquestionably UConn’s worst 12 minutes of its season.

At one point midway through the opening half, UConn went 11 straight possessions without scoring – 10 missed shots and three turnovers. Villanova scored 12 points during that span, opening up a 26-8 advantage, and it appeared the Huskies had hit rock-bottom.

But Lamb converted a conventional 3-point play to finally end UConn’s 7 ½-minute drought, and the floodgates opened. The Huskies outscored Villanova 22-4 over the final 8:06 of the half – keyed by 10 points from Lamb – and somehow found themselves tied at the break.

The 18-point deficit was the largest UConn has overcome to win a game this season, trumping a comeback from 13 points down to Coppin State back on Nov. 20.

*** With about four seconds left in the first half, Drummond grabbed a defensive rebounded and unleashed a fullcourt shot. Though there was about a five-second difference, it conjured up images of Roscoe's fullcourt heave with about 10 seconds left in regulation at Texas last season.

His teammates let Andre know about it.

“Someone said, ‘Yeah Roscoe, yeah Roscoe,'" Napier reported. "He didn’t see there was a lot of time left. Then, when he got the ball at .9 seconds, he didn’t want to shoot it. It was like, ‘Why didn’t he shoot that one.’ It was a funny moment.”

*** The Committee on Academic Performance met on Monday but didn't come to a conclusion on whether it will use APR scores from 2010-11 and 2011-12 (rather than 2009-10 and 2010-11) to determine whether teams can qualify for the 2013 tournament.

According to NCAA director of public and media relations Erik Christianson, the committee will continue the dialogue at future meetings. It next meets on April 23-25, and it may meet by conference call before April.



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