UConn doesn't need Napier to take over in easy win over Florida
The best team in this tournament just got bounced, and it wasn't solely because of the play of UConn star Shabazz Napier. He's often been brilliant, but he didn't need to take over Saturday night.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Let's play the "What if I told you ... " game, yeah?
What if I told you the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament would fail to win its Final Four game against a No. 7? What if I told you that No. 7 seed had the best player in the tournament, but he was unable to match his season averages in points (18.1) and rebounds (3) in the win? What if I told you a 30-game winning streak ended because of all of this? What if I told you Shabazz Napier looked more like the Shabazz Napier from 2011 than the Shabazz Napier of 2014?
Because that's what we got Saturday night. Unexpected and probably the best possible avenue to victory these Huskies could have asked for, when you think about it. Napier was good, not great, and blended in more than dominated. Napier is amazing when he dominates, but UConn was able to win more because of DeAndre Daniels' 20 points and 10 rebounds, Ryan Boatright's 13 points and Niels Giffey's timely play (and 11 more points).
"It's not a one-man team, it's not a two-man team, and they were double-teaming Shabazz a lot. Everybody stepped up." Boatright said. "This group of guys has been together for three years. We believe in each other and we believe in our coaching staff."
For UConn to have done what it just did? Forget unexpected; that Huskies win wasn't fathomable. The 63-53 Huskies knockout job over Florida was impressive and unexpected in its own right, but the way UConn got to that win, well, it's why sports always captivate us.
Because we know nothing. We get reminded of this annually.
Give UConn a lot of credit for its balance and ability to beat Florida in ways the Gators couldn't have fully expected or anticipated. The Huskies pulled off one of the more surprising national semifinal outcomes in recent memory, yet Napier had only 12 points on only six shots and two turnovers.
That seems unthinkable.
The Huskies going on a 27-6 run against Florida -- after starting the game down 16-4 -- seems unthinkable.
"We didn't point fingers when we were down and understood this was going to be a game of runs," Napier said.
That Gators start led to predictable burying on Twitter of Kevin Ollie's guys. UConn wins easily, by double digits, and supplied book-end Florida's losses. There is symmetry to all of this which makes for better stories: 30 wins and almost four months between tasting defeat. The Gators figured out almost everything this season. Except UConn and Wisconsin.
In the locker room afterward, the team pointed to Daniels' play, Boatright's play, Giffey's play, Napier's play -- even Terrence Samuels' contribution off the bench -- as a defining statement on the team's collective resolve in a tough moment.
A coincidental twist of fate for UConn here: Napier and Giffey now have the opportunity to be the first players since the Florida team of 2006-07 to win two national titles. That's also symmetrical. Then there's this, which has been a long time coming.
UPDATE: With Florida loss we're guaranteed our 1st team since '97 Arizona to win national title without reg. season or conf. tourney title.— Tony Moss (CBS) (@alylemoss) April 6, 2014
"They blitzed Shabazz a lot in the first half, and we were too dependent on him to start," Samuel said of the 16-4 deficit. "After that, we all were more aggressive and started taking pressure off him."
Phil Nolan said the team was never calm, just always focused. It intended to spread around the scoring in an effort to keep Florida from ever truly keying in on Napier.
"We feel like we've been doubted the whole season," Daniels said.
We go back to Dec. 2, the UConn win over Florida at the horn. Napier wins it on a second-opportunity last-second shot.
On Saturday, there was no drama for these Huskies. Only the slow squeeze and elimination -- again -- of a team that mostly won this season the way UConn did Saturday night: by committee, reliable point guard, refusing to beat itself.
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