Shabazz Napier carried Connecticut to the Final Four after his outstanding performance against Michigan State. He’s been named NetScouts Basketball’s NCAA Tournament Player of the Day for games on Sunday, March 30th.
Napier scored 25 points on 6-of-14 shooting that included a 4-of-9 showing from three and a perfect 9-of-9 display from the free throw line. He added six rebounds and four assists as Connecticut beat Michigan State 60-54.
“He led us to victory,” head coach Kevin Ollie told Dick Weiss of the New York Daily News. “He was just unbelievable in that second half: 21 points, crucial threes, dagger threes. He was 30 feet out and he was making them with the utmost confidence in the world.”
The 6-foot-1 senior point guard has been absolutely essential for the Huskies this season. He’s averaging 17.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game this year but has stepped up even further in the NCAA Tournament. In four games, Napier has averaged 23.3 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and three-point range. He’s lethal with the ball in his hands because of his ability to break down a defender off the dribble and attack the rim or finish with a pretty step-back jumper.
Shot selection has sometimes been an issue for Napier and at the next level he’ll need to have more of a distributor’s mindset with the type of surrounding talent that will be there. He should be a late first or early second round pick in this year’s NBA draft because of his ball handling, quickness, and scoring ability.
Connecticut will face Florida in a rematch of a December contest this season. Napier had 26 points, four rebounds, three steals, two assists, and the game-winning jumper at the buzzer as the Huskies won 65-64. Connecticut will need a similar performance from its star to have a chance to reach the finals.
Other Sunday Game Notes
-In the loss, Michigan State committed twice as many turnovers (16) as Connecticut. Sophomore shooting guard Gary Harris will likely be a lottery pick in this year’s draft and he showed why on Sunday. He had 22 points (8-14 FG, 4-9 3FG) and proved to be a perimeter threat. Senior forward Adreian Payne could find his way into the lottery as well, but had 13 points while shooting 4-of-14 from the floor and 3-of-10 from deep. He was doubled on the post when he touched the ball and floated around the perimeter for most of the game. The 6-foot-10 power forward still had nine rebounds and should have an excellent NBA career because of his size, athleticism, motor, and energy.
–Aaron Harrison drilled a deep three-pointer with 2.3 seconds left to send Kentucky into the Final Four with a 75-72 win over Michigan. He finished with 12 points, shooting 4-of-6 from three, and obviously had the biggest shot of the night. Julius Randle is slowing climbing back into the conversation for the top overall pick with 16 points and 11 rebounds on Sunday. James Young added 13 points and Marcus Lee was a pleasant surprise with 10 points, eight rebounds, and two blocks in 15 minutes off the bench. Lee’s energy and put-back dunks provided a spark for the Wildcats, who outrebounded Michigan 35-24. The young but ultra talented Kentucky squad has a chance to live up to its early preseason hype against Wisconsin.
–Nik Stauskas had 24 points (6-14 FG, 2-7 3FG) to end his sophomore season and likely his collegiate career. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard has the athleticism and shooting touch to thrive at the next level. He can contribute immediately off an NBA bench because of his shooting prowess. With his sharp shooting ability, Stauskas should be a mid-first round pick. Fellow sophomore teammate Glenn Robinson III showed flashes of his potential with 14 points and a perfect 2-of-2 display from three-point range. With his amount of athletic ability, it was a solid showing for the potential first rounder.
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