Another Napier Rescue

How does he do it? Only Shabazz Napier knows for sure.

HARTFORD, Conn. – There is no certified, accurate, or scientific explanation for the way Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier plays in overtime periods.

UConn coach Kevin Ollie says if he knew the secret, he would mess with the time continuum and have Napier play that way from the opening tip. And Thursday night at the XL Center, Napier joked after the game that he was simply tired and wanted to end the game. That prompted laughter from a group of reporters circled around the junior guard for his interview.

On this particular night, Napier did everyone a favor – except the Cincinnati Bearcats – and put this game out of its misery. Napier scored 11 of his game-high 27 points in OT as UConn (18-7, 8-5 Big East) overcame another set of statistics skewed against them and defeated Cincinnati (19-8, 7-7) 73-66 before a crowd of 11,131.

"I just have a more aggressive attitude toward the game in overtime," Napier said. "I feel like my team needs me much more and I just want to take some shots and have confidence in my shots and just knock them down for my teammates."

OK, it's not like the junior from Roxbury, Mass., doesn't score any other time. After all, he does lead the Huskies in scoring with a 16.7 average. But UConn is 4-1 in overtime games this season and there's no disputing the fact Napier is the reason for that impressive record. The first OT win of the season was in double overtime against Quinnipiac, so the Huskies have logged six overtime periods this season.

Now, get this: Napier has scored 46 points in those six five-minute periods. He is 9 of 14 on overtime field goals, including 8 of 12 from three-point range, and is 20-for-22 on free throw attempts. That's significant productivity.

This time he opened overtime with a pair of three-pointers to give UConn a 61-57 lead. He had another three to give UConn a 66-60 lead with one minute remaining and then hit a pair of free throws.

"Whenever we need a big shot, he's right there," Ollie said of Napier. "And he has no fear . . . He's a leader who has no fear of failure. And that's a great thing when you have a guy on your team that plays with that passion, but also is not scared and not fearful of failing."

Since Napier doesn't have that fear of failure, he doesn't mind being called up for the most difficult tasks. Thursday night that was a matter of bailing out the Huskies.

UConn began the game shooting 71 percent from the floor. The Huskies hit 5 of their first 7 shots but then went 6 of 17 on the way to a 37-34 halftime lead. Then it got stranger. DeAndre Daniels (17 points, five rebounds, four blocks and one steal in 37 minutes) started the second half with two baskets to give UConn a 43-38 lead with 17:23 left in the game.

But the Huskies then went eight minutes and 51 seconds without scoring. The other way of saying that is UConn went almost nine minutes without a basket - until Tyler Olander broke free for a pass from Omar Calhoun and dunked with 8:32 left.

Somehow, UConn was still in front 45-43 at that point - despite the drought. Omar Calhoun (10 points), playing with sprained right wrist heavily taped, hit a floater to keep the Huskies within four points, and Daniels buried a three to cut the lead to one point.

UConn managed just one more field goal in regulation and that was a driving layup from the left side by Napier with 41.4 seconds left that tied the game at 55 and forced overtime.

"He just likes the big moments," Ollie said. "In that overtime, he just thinks he can make the shot. And I think he just will himself to make those . . . I was going to put the ball in his hands. At the end of regulation and in overtime he was going to have the ball in his hands because he was going to make right decisions for us."

Ryan Boatright, coming off a bad performance against Villanova, had nine points and five assists in a bounce back game. But Ollie praised Boatright for getting his mind straight and limiting Cashmere Wright to 10 points – more than three below his average.

sWhen Wright was called for a backcourt violation, the Huskies had a chance to win the game with 32.6 seconds left. Napier ran the clock down too far, did not get set for his shot and rushed an attempt that missed at the buzzer.

Cincinnati, trying to solidify its NCAA resume, got 18 points from Sean Kilpatrick and 14 from Jaquon Parker. The Bearcats had 17 offensive rebounds and dominated the boards 44-28. They outscored UConn 34-14 in the paint and 17-4 on second chance points.

But they couldn't stop Napier when they had to.

"The scouting report says he's a streaky shooter," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "When he made the first one [in overtime] I understand. Bu not the second and third one.

"All eight of our losses are the same. It's Groundhog Day."

Actually, it seemed more like Napier's Day. Ollie said Napier should be in the running for Big East Player of the Year.

Napier just laughed.

"I think if they had a Big East Team of Year it should be us," Napier said. "Without my teammates I wouldn't be scoring. I wouldn't be doing much. This team is just tremendously intertwined with each other. I don't look for individual awards."

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