Napier Calls Out Teammates

HARTFORD, Conn. – Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier says he is blunt with his teammates all the time. Saturday, after the Huskies fell apart once again and lost to No. 12 Marquette 79-64, Napier shared some of that bluntness with the media.

Napier certainly didn't mince his words.

He said the Huskies quit at the end of the game. He said when push comes to shove, some of his teammates don't want to give it back. He said basketball is a team sport, not a one-player sport like tennis or golf.

"We get punched and some guys just throw pillows back," Napier said. "You're not supposed to throw pillows back. You're supposed to get a three-pointer, lock up on defense, do the necessary things to get a win – and right now we're not doing that."

That's when Napier was asked if he had said these things to his teammates.

"I say it to them all the time," Napier said. "I'm blunt. Sometimes I tell them how I feel, but sometimes I have to hold a lot back in. I don't usually say nothing before the game. I usually don't say nothing at halftime because I'm blunt and I don't want to say the wrong things.

"But at the end of the game [Saturday], I told the guys, ‘I've got to question a lot of you guys' hearts. You're not giving it all.' I make mistakes but, at the same time, I learn from my mistakes. I make sure I apologize for my mistakes. I told the guys I'm not perfect. I told the guys the only reason I'm speaking out is because I'm the captain. And, at the end of the day, I feel I'm the only one who wants to speak out. Everybody else wants to stay in the locker room and be quiet like we just died."

The Huskies aren't dead yet, but they sure have been disappointing – especially while losing seven of the last nine. Maybe Napier should have gone public earlier in the season. It's close to being too late.

But calling out your teammates isn't easy – even if some of it is obvious. Napier didn't have a great game but he did hit 4 of 8 shots, scored 11 points, added eight assists, four steals and only one turnover in 37 minutes.

The question now is whether his comments will hurt the team's chemistry even more, or if it inspires UConn (16-10, 6-8 Big East) to do better in the final four regular-season games.

"It's like we take a few steps forward and then we take a few steps back," junior forward Alex Oriakhi said. "I just want to get on a steady winning streak. Coach [Glen] Miller always says we're fighting for our lives. We're fighting to make the [NCAA] tournament."

Saturday was set up for the ultimate momentum change in this season – based on UConn's history under coach Jim Calhoun. A home game against the No. 12 team in the nation, with a chance to win consecutive games for the first time in over a month and impress a national TV audience on ESPN. UConn teams from the past would've jumped all over that opportunity.

Beating Marquette (22-5, 11-3) would have been UConn's signature victory to this point in the season. Instead the Huskies suffered their worst home loss since a 95-71 defeat at the hands of Boston College on Feb. 1, 2003. And it was UConn's worst loss in Hartford since St. Bonaventure upset the Huskies 88-70 on Dec. 28, 2001.

The Huskies played poorly in the first half. Marquette, led by Jae Crowder (29 points) and Darius Johnson-Odom (24), hit 7 of 13 shots from three-point range, outrebounded UConn 20-13, and outscored UConn 10-3 from the free throw line on the way to a 43-29 halftime lead.

Marquette gets up and down the floor as well as any team in the nation. UConn had not seen a team fly from rim to rim the way the Golden Eagles did.

"Their speed and strength almost blew our doors off," said associate head coach George Blaney, who filled in for Calhoun for the fifth consecutive game. "We had worked on it for two days. We were really solid about picking up the ball early and getting back. But their bigs continued to beat our guys down the court."

The Huskies came back to life early in the second half, putting together a 10-1 run that was sparked by Jeremy Lamb (19 points), Ryan Boatright (10 points) and Alex Oriakhi (10 points). A dunk by Oriakhi cut Marquette's lead to 48-44 with 15:31 left in the game and the XL Center crowd of 16,294 raised the roof with noise and Marquette called timeout.

As the players headed to their benches, Boatright and Marquette's Todd Mayo – both freshmen - exchanged words. And they were close enough for one of the officials to hear. Boatright was hit with a technical foul for whatever he said.

"No physical stuff, it was just jawing," Crowder said. "It's all part of the game, but the referee [Chris Beaver] was right there when he said what he said."

Play resumed with Johnson-Odom at the free throw line. He hit both technical foul shots, the Golden Eagles kept the possession, and Crowder buried a three-pointer that extended the lead to nine again. The Huskies never got closer than five the rest of the way.

"I thought the technical really change the game," Blaney said. "And we didn't recover from that very well."

Blaney, who contested the T throughout the timeout, said the official explained the reason. "But I'm not going to tell you," Blaney said. Asked if it was a fair technical, Blaney said, "No." Asked if Boatright deserved the T, Blaney said, "No" again.

The UConn locker room is closed after games and Boatright was not made available to the media. That didn't stop Napier from offering his critique.

"It was immature," Napier said. "That's the one thing I can say, it was real immature. At the same time, the refs could've close their eyes, closed their ears. It's just immature. [Boatright] didn't do it on purpose. They were going at it the whole game. I always tell my guys, they never see the first one. They always see the second one."

If Calhoun, out indefinitely with spinal stenosis, had been coaching this game, he might have been ejected with two technicals. In addition to the T, UConn was called for 18 fouls and Marquette was whistled 12 times. The Golden Eagles outscored the Huskies 21-12 at the free throw line.

"We're a team that doesn't foul," Blaney said. "And they shot 26 fouls."

It's important to remember Marquette is a very good team, almost certain to receive a double bye in the Big East tournament and led by two seniors in Johnson-Odom and Crowder.

"You can't measure heart," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "And in a world where we try to count everything, not everything counts. You can't quantify the heart and the brains that those two seniors are playing with.

"It's a jubilant locker room. I'm extremely pleased with the heart and the instincts and the intellect of our team."

The same couldn't be said in the home locker room. Just ask Napier.

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