Napier Embracing Leadership Role

STORRS – There were many moments that pleased Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie during an emotional 66-62 victory over then –No. 14 Michigan State Friday night in Germany. But only one gave Ollie the confidence that the Huskies could hold on and win.

A DeAndre Daniels turnover with 5:34 left in the game led to a made layup by Michigan State's Keith Appling. Ryan Boatright fouled Appling as he scored. Before Appling hit the free throw to give the Spartans a 58-56 lead, UConn guard Shabazz Napier called his teammates together at the foul line.

"I looked at the tape and the first thing I saw was Shabazz bringing everybody in together," Ollie said Monday after practice at Gampel Pavilion. "That's what I want my leaders to do; not hang your head [and say], ‘We're down.' I knew we were going to be fine when I saw that. I'm looking for that from everybody that's on this team. That was a great scene and I want that to continue."

Napier said he told his teammates to keep their composure.

"At that point in time we just looked scattered," Napier said Monday. "I wanted to bring the guys together and tell them, ‘We're going to win this game. Just keep your composure. They've made their run, now it's our time to make our run.' And that's exactly what happened."

That's something Napier would not have done during his first two seasons at UConn, he said.

"It's something I would never have thought of doing," Napier said. "I would have been like, ‘[Crap], I fouled him.' But the team knew what time it was. I really didn't have to say much."

Asked if that is a sign he is growing up, Napier said, "I'm trying, I'm trying. I can't stay young all my life."

The upset over Michigan State propelled the Huskies into the Associated Press Top 25 at No. 23. Florida State, a loser to South Alabama, fell out of the rankings to make room for the Huskies. Michigan State dropped to No. 21.

UConn had not been ranked since Jan. 23 and didn't receive a vote in the preseason poll. But the players weren't concerned with that or the fact they just missed being ranked in the coaches' poll. Napier said it would've meant something to him as a freshman – but not now that he is a junior.

"We're just going to be UConn," Ollie said about the ranking. "Whatever that is, you can write that, the AP can write it but we're going to go out and play with effort. I've been saying it from day one. I'm not going to change it. [Being ranked] really doesn't matter to me."

The Huskies battled fatigue and jet lag Monday during a practice that was shy of two hours. Vermont, the preseason favorite to win the America East Conference, visits Gampel Tuesday night (7 p.m., SNY, UConn IMG Sports Radio Network). The Catamounts (1-0) may not have the big name as Michigan State but they are consistent winners in their conference and are favored again this season.

Ollie said it was easy keeping the Huskies focused Monday. He said they practiced hard in their first workout since returning from Germany.

"They came out here with a lot of enthusiasm today," Ollie said. "It was a tough day for them mentally coming in here with jet lag and all those excuses that you can use but they didn't use any of them today. It was a great time to be out at practice with them. They gave me a lift. . . . Now you just have to carry it over to tomorrow. Vermont is a really challenge to us but we should be up to the test.

"They know how to win. They're coached very well. They play defense very, very well. They run and execute their offense at a great speed. They don't have any little guards, everybody is coming in there strong at 6-3 and 6-2. They're active and I love the makeup of their team. We're looking forward to the challenge."

NOTES

Guard Ryan Boatright rolled his ankle in the second half of the Michigan State game but said Monday he is fine. He went back in the game after the injury and said unless it was broken he was going to keep playing. "He sat out on one hard drill [Monday] so I called him out on that," Ollie said. "He's fine." . . . Vermont freshman forward Ethan O'Day is from Mansfield and played at E.O. Smith High School. He is a former teammate of Tyler Olander. "He lived right around the corner," Olander said. "We used to hang out all the time." . . . Look for a big crowd of fans from E.O. Smith at the game. Napier expects a big crowd, much bigger than UConn's two exhibition games. But UConn officials said plenty of tickets remain. . . . During a visit to the Wounded Warrior hospital on Ramstein Air Base, Nappier said he and teammate R.J. Evans were approached by a woman. She said they reminded her of her sons. She asked for a hug and when they obliged, she said, "You just took all the pain away from me." Napier called it the coolest moment of the trip. "I was so shocked," Napier said. "It made her lose her pain. It may not mean a lot to a lot of people, but for me it was something more than that. I play basketball. For someone to say that to me, just because I play basketball, it means more than the world."


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