It Comes Down to This: Slowing Shabazz

NEW YORK — The Cyclones will devote their total attention Friday to corralling All-American PG Shabazz Napier. How they manage will decide the game — and, in turn, the season. Head inside for a breakdown of the matchup

NEW YORK — Shabazz Napier comes straight from a video game, parlaying move after move into a fallaway jumper and sporting dead-eye accuracy even in the teensiest of spaces.

"One guy can't stop him," ISU coach Fred Hoiberg said of Napier, UConn's All-American guard, Thursday at Madison Square Garden. "He's really, really good."

Napier, a 6-foot-1 senior guard, leads the Huskies in scoring (17.8), rebounding (5.9), assists (4.9) and steals (1.8). The Roxbury, Mass., native is No. 5 all-time on UConn's career scoring list, behind Ray Allen, and he's the only Husky to record two triple-doubles in a career.

Iowa State has seen him before, back when Napier was a sophomore. The Cyclones won the second-round NCAA tournament game, but Napier still got his, pouring in 22 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

The scary thing? As ISU veteran guard Bubu Palo noted in the locker room Thursday, Napier "has improved a lot since then."

Consider the following: Napier has increased his points-per-game total each of his four seasons in Storrs, going from role player on title team (7.8 points per contest in 2010-11) to star on title hopeful. He's scored in double-figures in all but three games this year, his season high being a 34-point drilling of No. 20 Memphis.

It'll take a by-committee approach to stopping Napier, in that all five Cyclones will have to help and hedge.

"You can't ask one guy to stop him," Hoiberg said. "You try to slow him down, make him take tough, contested shots. And he's gonna make some of them. You just can't get frustrated, you have to stick it to your gameplan."

Napier versus Iowa State's DeAndre Kane is a glitzy headline for Friday's game (6:27 CST), point guard-a-point guard. Their paths will cross plenty.

This thing, though — the right to play Virginia or Michigan State on Sunday in the Elite Eight — might come down to Napier versus ISU freshman Monté Morris, the more likely candidate to shadow No. 13 in navy and white.

The matchup will be especially crucial in the final minutes when the Cyclones like to save Kane's energy for offense, Morris noting, "DeAndre sometimes cramps a lot so we try to keep his legs as fresh as we can. If that means me chasing Shabazz around for [Kane] to be great on the offensive end, I'll do it."

"Napier is probably gonna be one of the best players I've ever guarded my whole career," Morris said Tuesday in Ames. "He's real crafty."

If the Huskies were just about Napier, the Cyclones could blitz him with off-ball defenders and assign an armada of players to stop him. But they're not, so they can't. Coach Kevin Ollie inherited two years ago from Jim Calhoun the services of DeAndre Daniels, a 6-foot-9 wing who's shooting 42.6 from three, junior guard Ryan Boatright, a 12-ppg scorer, and Niels Giffey, another three-point bomber.

There's also 7-foot center Amida Brimah, a Mutombo-esque shot-blocker, but that's a discussion for the other end of the court.

Per, Napier takes 26.4 percent of the Huskies' shots when he's on the floor. Daniels counters with a clip of 26.7.

The Huskies aren't a one-man team, clearly, but they've made their tournament run as a No. 7 seed — beating Saint Joseph's in overtime then knocking out No. 2 Villanova — because of Napier, who scored a combined 49 points in the two games.

In six of UConn's eight losses, Napier has shot 33 percent or worse from the field.

"Shabazz is their motor," Morris said. "If Shabazz isn't going, they're not playing that good. But when he's going, they're dangerous. … We're just gonna have to life and die with whatever happens."

AllCyclones Top Stories