The image of Kemba Walker getting the mismatch at the top of the key and nailing the shot at the top of the key to break a 74-74 tie to win the Big East Championship in 2011 is ingrained in the mind of every true Connecticut Huskies fan. Arguably the most important shot and clutch play in UConn basketball history, Walker’s heroics allowed Connecticut to ride their confidence not only into the NCAA Tournament, but to a National Title.
While playing a minor role, current UConn senior Shabazz Napier witnessed some of Walker’s heroics during his freshman year as a Huskies player. Over the past two seasons, he has done his best to mimic his former mentor.
On December 2, 2013, I sat on the edge of my seat like everyone else in Gampel Pavilion as the Huskies and the Florida Gators went back and forth in an extremely close contest. Right when the Huskies seemed down and out, they made the right plays and got a little lucky along the way. In a 64-63 game, trailing by one point, Napier threw up a tough shot with a few seconds remaining.
But, the ensuing scramble for the ball under the basket allowed DeAndre Daniels to tip the ball back to Napier, who released the ball just before time expired. The next thing I knew, the whole place was going nuts. He had just won the game!
His clutch play didn’t start with that shot, however. During his sophomore season, he hit a 30-foot jump shot at the buzzer to beat Villanova. He scored 55 points in 45 minutes in an overtime game last season. Earlier this season, he scored his team’s final nine points and 27 overall as UConn pulled off a 72-70 win over Indiana.
Walker had a similar track record. For these two stars, one thing is for certain — they have ice water in their veins.