It can be difficult being the unquestioned star and best player of a basketball team. UConn’s Shabazz Napier has found himself in that role this season, and some of the challenges that role presents were on display in yesterday’s 63-58 loss to Cincinnati. Napier had one of his roughest games of the season against the Bearcats and their 4th ranked scoring defense, shooting just 5-19 from the field, including a woeful 2-12 mark from three. He finished the game with 16 points, 3 assists and 2 rebounds.
Napier has been one of the best players in the country all season, and his rough shooting night can be attributed to Cincinnati’s defense and a simple off night. However, there have to be some concerns among Kevin Ollie and his coaching staff that Napier isn’t getting enough support from his teammates and is trying to do too much. Several of his missed threes were long, contested pull ups that had very little chance of going in. Napier has made plenty of those shots before, but he shouldn’t have kept taking them when he was cold.
Lasan Kromah, Niels Giffey and Ryan Boatright are the three players that can best support Napier, and Kromah had a strong performance last night. However, he and Giffey faded down the stretch, and Boatright was not having a much better game than Napier. Napier is going to have the occasional off game, and his teammates have to be able to pick up the slack when that happens.
UConn is going to make the NCAA Tournament, but how far they get depends almost entirely on the supporting cast. Napier can only do so much, and the rest of the team will need to step up their performance in order to make any sort of run. UConn has nine regular season games remaining, including three against ranked teams. They need to use those games to begin gradually increasing the role of Boatright and Kromah in the offense. Giving them more touches should make the whole team, including Napier, more confident in giving the ball to alternative options in the clutch. Napier is an outstanding player who has the ability to carry UConn to wins, but the time is going to come when the supporting cast has to help share the scoring load.