When the game is on the line Conneticut’s star player Shabazz Napier is the player that wants and needs the basketball in his hands. His hunger to take the clutch shot is as strong as anyone remaining in the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four.
Opposing teams have tried and failed all year trying to prevent Napier’s late game success. Michigan State was the most recent victim to suffer the symbolic continuum Napier lays down on opponents. The 2014 ACC player of the year leads the Huskies in points, assists and rebounds. The man that can do it all displayed his utilitarian skills by dropping 25 points, six rebounds and four assists against the Spartans.
Napier was honored with the East Regional’s most outstanding player. No surprise as he averaged 23.25 points per game while eliminating #10 seed Saint Joesph’s, #2 Villanova, #3 Iowa State and #4 Michigan State. Villanova finished the regular season with the fifth best record in college basketball this year, Iowa State had the Big 12 player of the year in Melvin Ejim and Michigan State was second, 11-2, in Las Vegas odds to win the title at the start of the tournament. Fans who picked the Huskies at 80-1 to win the title at the start of tournament are salivating over the next matchup vs. arguably the hottest team in college basketball, the Florida Gators.
Napier and the Huskies faced the Gators earlier this year, Dec. 2, in out of conference play and guess what, Napier characteristically ripped the net on a game winner. The 15-foot jumper released from Napier’s steady hands, the shot drained, the buzzer alarmed and the Connecticut student section celebrated. Napier and all Connecticut fans have a second opportunity to relive this moment when facing the Gators on April 5 at 6: 09 PM ET at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
Napier is not a rookie to the Final Four, in fact he ringed a finger in the 2010-2011 season as a freshman. In 2011 Napier came off the bench to backup Kemba Walker. He averaged 7.8 points, 3 assists and 1.8 steals per game and was honored to the Big East All-Rookie team. Walker was the star for this team, but now is the time for Napier to best impersonate Superman.
After beating Florida earlier this season Napier said, “Growing up I wanted to be Superman. Everyone wants to be a hero.”
The stars have aligned for Napier to win his second NCAA title and the fourth for the Connecticut basketball program. At least one more superhero shot by Napier will be required for the Huskies to bring home the 2014 National Championship.
Napier’s tenure with Connecticut is composed of skewed periods. Winning the 2011 National title under direction of Jim Calhoun was a high point, which was followed by the retirement of Calhoun after a disappointing sophomore season. Napier debated transferring, but decided to stay when concluding that he owed Connecticut after already winning one title. The Huskies team then lost postseason eligibility in his junior year due to academic problems, but after all the erraticism Napier finds himself back in the Final Four for his senior year.
Napier’s collegiate career is symbolic of his on-court presence. The first 30 minutes are imperative, but the most important time is the final 10 minutes. The final 10 minutes represent Napier’s senior season and also when he elevates his game to the next level.
Commentary by Niles Olson