Connecticut Huskies senior guard Shabazz Napier had 27 points on Friday night, to lead UConn to yet another nail-biting victory, this time defeating the Indiana Hoosiers by the score of 59-58 at Madison Square Garden. The win improved the Huskies to a perfect 6-0 on the season, and awarded them the 2K Sports Classic. No one else on Connecticut scored in double figures.
It was in the historic venue of Madison Square Garden that former Huskies star Kemba Walker hit his memorable step-back, ankle-breaking jump shot to win the Big East Tournament in 2011 over Pittsburgh. Napier did his best to lead Connecticut, as his former teammate Walker did at the end of Napier’s freshman season with the team. UConn took their momentum into the NCAA Tournament and ended up coming home with their third NCAA Championship.
Defensively, the Huskies were great all night, getting Indiana star freshman forward Noah Vonleh into early foul trouble, resulting in him being a complete non-factor, not registering a single point in 10 minutes of action. In each of their four previous games, he had scored at least 13 points, hitting 18 twice, and had not had less than nine rebounds in a contest. He had recorded double-doubles in three of the four games. Not allowing him to be a factor at either end of the floor was, in my opinion, the reason UConn won this game.
Offensively Connecticut struggled, especially when putting the ball in the hoop from the outside, a staple of their offensive system. Other than Napier, who went 4-of-6 from three-point range, the rest of the team went 2-of-13. Junior forward DeAndre Daniels, coming off back-to-back 20-plus point games, only scored seven points on 2-of-8 shooting. Junior guard Ryan Boatright went 2-of-9 shooting, resulting in nine points. Sophomore Omar Calhoun, who led the team in scoring in two of the first five contests, scored only two points on 1-of-7 shooting. In other words, no one was making shots.
Napier had to take things into his own hands. And oh boy, did he. The Huskies team leader and captain, Napier, prides himself on finding his open teammates. However, after seeing all game how his teammates were struggling, he had to take things into his own hands, often times calling for isolations at the top of the key, after making a bigger defender hedge on a screen-and-roll. UConn fans can remember back a few years when Walker was forced to lead the team in a similar way.
With wins over challenging opponents like Maryland and Boston College from the ACC, and Indiana, a powerhouse of the Big 10, UConn has lived up to the hype to begin this season. These wins will give them the confidence that they will need heading into conference play in a few weeks.
With Napier as their go-to guy, there is no reason why this team cannot make it deep into the NCAA Tournament. Everyone else just needs to show up and give him some help.