Fresh off their biggest win of the season over No. 23 SMU, the Temple Owls were looking to take down another ranked opponent Thursday night in the Connecticut Huskies. The Owls were able to cut the score close at times, but the eventual outcome was never really in doubt as UCONN calmly rolled to a 68-55 win. Shabazz Napier set the tone early with three no-look passes for easy baskets and continued to show everybody why he deserves heavy consideration for NCAA player of the year.
Napier, a 6-foot-1 senior point guard, flirted with his third career triple-double at the Liacouras Center Thursday and finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Stat lines like this come as no surprise, however, as Napier is well on his way to becoming the first Connecticut Husky in history to lead his team in points, rebounds and assists. UCONN’s floor general averages 18.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game this season, and he shoots a cool 87 percent from the charity stripe. Game after game Napier fills up the stat sheets, but his numbers don’t even come close to representing how valuable he is to the Huskies.
Standing out as a patient leader, Napier has the fourth best assist-to-turnover ratio in the AAC and ranks fifth in the conference in assists as well. He has an outstanding nose for the ball both offensively and defensively, and he has found a way to lead his team in rebounding despite standing just over six feet tall. Napier is the kind of player who can single-handedly control the tempo of a game, and he’s capable of putting up 30-plus points on any given night as he’s done twice already this year in games against Louisville and Memphis. Quick enough to blow by his man whenever he pleases and confident enough to hit step-back threes, Napier truly can do it all.
UCONN has now won seven of its last eight games and is putting together a very healthy NCAA tournament resume. An early season win against the likely new No. 1 Florida Gators and two wins against Memphis all add to the team’s already stellar 21-5 record. The Huskies play great post defense, contesting every close shot, and are the fifth best free throw-shooting team in the country. They go as Shabazz Napier goes, and right now they look poised to finish strong and make a potential run deep into the 2014 NCAA tournament.