Louisville, KY – In a match-up of two of the top guards in the country in UConn’s Shabazz Napier and Louisville’s Russ Smith, it was Smith’s Cardinals who dominated from start to finish in a 81 -48 victory. The win gave Louisville a share of the American Athletic Conference championship and solidified them as a legit contender to reach the Final Four for the 3rd straight season.
Along with Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, Napier and Smith are the front runners for AAC player of the year. However it was Smith who dominated this match up and also proved how his game has evolved in his four years at UL. Once thought of as just a scorer Smith controlled this game by distributing the ball to his teammates in transition and tallying up a career high 13 assists. Just three nights ago, Smith lit up a solid SMU defense for 26 points on 6-of-6 shooting from behind the arc. Tonight however Smith showed the ability to run a team and most importantly got sophomore big man Montrezl Harrell involved early and often in this blowout victory. With NBA scouts in attendance Smith showed the ability to run a team and also cause havoc defensively with four steals and was unrelenting on UConn guards Napier and Ryan Boatright.
Napier has had an amazing career at UConn that began with him winning a National Championship in 2011. He has arguably been the top point guard in the country as a senior and has shaken off the label of streaky shooter to have a very balanced season. Today was not the Shabazz Napier we have seen this season as the Louisville zone completely took him out of the game. He was forced him to settle for contested jump shots shooting a poor 1-of-10 on 3-pointers. Napier forced the action in the first half and ended up with six turnovers in which was undoubtedly his worst performance of the season. This game should not reflect badly on the year Napier has had and do not be shocked if he shakes it off the lead UConn deep into next week’s AAC tourney.
College basketball will miss Shabazz Napier and Russ Smith next season. They are a rarity now days as they are four year players who have become stars and made the decision to come back to school and improve their games each season. With just a handful of games left for both players we should enjoy their heroics and leadership while it lasts, but we would not be shocked if both of these guys had long and successful NBA careers.
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