Sunday, January 27, 2013

Shabazz Napier Fosters UConn's 'Us Versus Them' Attitude

Shabazz Napier was sporting a baseball cap that read “Us Versus Them” after Sunday’s rather unattractive win over Rutgers. No, he's not a Pink Floyd fan (and yes, I know it's "Us And Them").

“My girlfriend got me this,” Napier said. “It’s a good hat. Coach (Kevin) Ollie mentioned it before the game. It got the team excited.”

Indeed, it's sort of the attitude UConn's had all season and must continue to maintain for the next two months. While they've had to deal with knowing they’re not going to any postseason tournaments for nearly a year now, the reality of the situation is in danger of creeping in over the next couple of months. Soon, bracketologists will be as prevalent on TV as weathermen, March Madness will again be an everyday part of the sports vernacular and the Huskies – despite a 13-5 overall record and 3-3 Big East mark after Sunday’s win – will be on the outside looking in.

Napier knows the team must guard against the disappointment of being left out and rise above it.

“It probably hasn’t hit a lot of guys that we’re almost done,” the junior point guard said. “I think the guys understand that we’re doing this for something bigger. We’re doing this to get ready for next year. It’s tough not getting in this year, but this year is going to help us be stronger next year. To understand that, if we can fight through the things we’re fighting through now, next year’s going to be so much easier, because we’re going to have a lot of guys still here.”

Does that mean Napier plans on coming back next year? No. But it certainly sounds like a good sign for Husky fans.

Here’s some more of what Napier (and Ollie) had to say after the victory. We’ll have some video up a little later, as well.

(Napier, on his left shoulder)

“We just played good defense today, so that made me forget about my shoulder. I was happy about that.”

Ollie noted that Napier is displaying much better leadership this season. Napier essentially agreed.

“I feel like I know what play to call, I know when to shoot, things like that,” he said. “It just comes from experience. I’m a junior now, I realize what college basketball is, to a (degree).”

Niels Giffey did a little of everything – seven points, three boards, career-high four steals – and Napier appreciated it.

“Giff’s always that guy that’s gonna give us the spark no matter what. He comes off the bench and he’s ready to play. Giff can be starting, but he understands that he needs to be a guy that’s coming off the bench, and he enjoys that role. We need a few more guys like that who don’t care about minutes and playing a lot, scoring. He’s an all-out effort guy, and we need those people.”

Added Ollie: “When I look up ‘versatility’ in the dictionary, I see Niels Giffey’s picture by it. I call on him to play the 3, the 4, 2, 1. He just steps up and does it. I love him to death.”

(Ollie on DeAndre Daniel’s steal and dunk off UConn’s pressure that highlighted a 10-0, game-clinching run)

“I actually didn’t see DeAndre’s steal. I was back there talking to my coaches. I turned around, and they’re going, ‘Look, look, look.’ It was just our ball pressure.”

Ollie said he wrote down a couple of goals on the board prior to the game, and UConn accomplished them. What were they? Rebounding and defensive intensity?

“You got it. That’s it. It was defense and rebounding. You pretty much know what the rebounding was (37-33 advantage). I want us to hit, and we did that tonight. I’m proud of the guys.”

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