Napier Saves The Day

PHILADELPHIA—Shabazz Napier created a stir this time for the shot he took at the buzzer instead of the one at his teammates.

Napier swished a 29-footer with 0.6 seconds left in overtime, shaking off an injured right foot and the fallout from critical comments about his Huskies, to help Connecticut stun Villanova 73-70 Monday night.

Napier questioned UConn's heart after a loss Saturday to Marquette. No one could question Napier's guts after the long pull-up 3 got all net in the final ticks to keep the defending champion Huskies' NCAA tournament hopes alive.

"Usually, I hit from real, real deep," Napier said.

Napier got the Huskies talking for all the right reasons. He did the talking after a 79-64 loss to Marquette, saying, "I've got to question a lot of these guys' hearts."

He also accused the team of quitting and said the Huskies play of late, "doesn't look like UConn basketball."

Napier, playing through a strained ligament in his right foot, insisted he didn't take any heat in the locker room.

"They understood where I was coming from," he said. "But I probably said too much. I just want my teammates to go out there and give it their all."

Jeremy Lamb sure did, scoring a career-high 32 points to help the Huskies (17-10, 7-8 Big East) rally from an 18-point deficit to win without coach Jim Calhoun on the bench. UConn remained hopeful he can return from a back injury and be on the sidelines for Saturday's game against No. 2 Syracuse.

UConn says Calhoun's status will be re-evaulated this week.

Associate coach George Blaney, who has been leading the team in Calhoun's absence, said Napier may have been right in his critique.

"Shabazz speaks a lot all the time, so I'm not really worried about that," Blaney said. "He's a competitor and he wants us to do well. Sometimes, he talks a little too much."

Ty Johnson appeared to send the game to double OT on his tying layup for Villanova with 5.9 seconds left off a missed UConn free throw. But Napier showed no fear on the long 3.

Lamb was 11 of 21 from the floor, the lone shooting bright spot in an otherwise awful night for the Huskies. Andre Drummond had 11 rebounds and four blocked shots for the Huskies. UConn overcame a dreadful start from the floor and a brutal 10 of 21 effort from the free-throw line.

Dominic Cheek led the Wildcats (11-16, 4-11) with 23 points. Johnson added 14 points for Villanova, and JayVaughn Pinkston had 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Leading scorer Maalik Wayns sat out for Villanova with a sprained MCL in his left knee, and guard James Bell was out with a sprained left ankle.

"Right after the game, it's painful," Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. "I feel more for the players. Being the coach, you've been through this. You know this is part of the process of being successful."

Each team made clutch plays in the final 2 minutes of regulation only to throw in a few silly ones, as well. Mouphtaou Yarou put Villanova ahead 60-58 with 2:18 left with two free throws. Ryan Boatwright, a 73 percent free-throw shooter for UConn, missed both of his attempts from the line with 1:05 remaining.

The Wildcats might have been able to hang on after their next possession, but Cheek's inbound pass was picked off by Roscoe Smith and Alex Oriakhi converted the tying layup. That made it 60-all with 23 seconds left.

Pinkston airballed the potential winner and Villanova headed to overtime for the second straight game.

Lamb snapped a tie game in OT with a 3-pointer and the Huskies kept the lead until Johnson's layup gave the Wildcats the clutch bucket they needed to tie the game in the final seconds.

It just wasn't enough.

Calhoun missed his ninth game this season, three because of NCAA suspension for recruiting violations and the last six after taking an indefinite medical leave with spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spine, normally associated with aging and sometimes with arthritis.

He surely loved this comeback.

The Wildcats squandered an 18-point lead in a loss to Marquette last month and wasted a 20-point edge in an overtime loss to Notre Dame on Saturday.

Villanova didn't wait until the second half to let the collapse start against UConn.

Behind a pair of early 3s from Cheek, the Wildcats stormed to a 26-8 lead, giving them a chance to either crush the opposition for once or blow the lead again.

The Wildcats blew it.

UConn closed the half on a 22-4 spurt, tying the score at 30-all on Drummond's tip-in right before the half ended. The Huskies missed 10 straight shots -- and 15 of their first 20 overall -- before closing on an 8-for-15 run. They missed their first seven 3-point attempts, but Boatwright and Napier each hit one during the game-changing run to close the deficit.

The winning buzzer-beater came in front of a lethargic crowd of 13,832 fans.

Six years ago, they played the most memorable game in their rivalry.

The Wildcats were No. 4 in the poll when they beat top-ranked UConn 69-64 on Feb. 13, 2006 in front of 20,859 at the Wells Fargo Center, the largest crowd to watch a college basketball game in Pennsylvania history. Villanova fans stormed the court to celebrate the Wildcats' first win over a No. 1 team since Feb. 18, 1995, when they beat Connecticut.

Times have changed in a game between the defending national champs and Villanova, a program that reached the Final Four in 2009. The Wildcats lost their third straight game and for the sixth time in seven games.

UCONN Playbook Top Stories