IN SHABAZZ WE TRUST
Huskies take down No. 15 Florida Gators
Published: Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 00:12
Shabazz Napier wanted to be Superman growing up.
He didn’t wear any tights or capes Monday night, but he was a hero for the UConn men’s basketball team.
With the Huskies down by one and 17.7 seconds left on the clock, Napier fired up an errant shot after getting trapped by the Florida defense. The shot missed, but DeAndre Daniels chased down the ball and tipped it back to Napier, who drilled a game-winning jumper from the foul line to help the No. 12 Huskies (8-0, 0-0 AAC) defeat the No. 15 Florida Gators (6-2, 0-0 SEC), 65-64, in front of a sellout crowd at Gampel Pavilion.
“You always see how highlight films of guys hitting the last shot or guys at the free throw line making the free throws,” said Napier, who finished the night with a game-high 26 points. “You want to be the hero. You want to be the guy that’s known as a hero at the end of the game. I was just fortunate enough to be in the right spot at the right time.”
After Napier hit the game-winner, the senior guard rushed off the court and was apparently heading for the locker room.
“It was just momentum,” Napier said. “I didn’t know what I was doing. It’s adrenaline… I just knew that guys were going to try to trample me and I’m kind of claustrophobic… So I was just trying to run to the locker room and on my way there I met a couple of great students and was just going crazy with them.”
UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said Napier’s performance Monday night was “phenomenal.”
“Whenever we need a big shot, he makes that,” Ollie said. “Whenever we need a play to be made, he made that… He’s got so much heart. Hopefully, America is starting to look at him as that man. I love the kid to death. One of the big-time players to ever put this jersey on and walk on the court at Gampel.”
Napier, meanwhile, acknowledged that he could not have done it by himself.
“Superman does it on his own,” Napier said. “I can’t do it without my teammates. They made sure that I got the right picks. DeAndre put a good hand on the ball at the last second.”
Daniels finished the game with 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Huskies while Ryan Boatright and Niels Giffey chipped in nine and eight points, respectively.
Ollie said he was happy about the win but he’s “a little exhausted” with yet another one-point win. Out of the team’s eight wins on the season, three of them have been decided by one point and one was decided by two.
“It’s heart that’s going to get you through,” Ollie said. “Sometimes you can’t go over the top of it, you can’t go under it. You’ve got to go right through it and that’s what this team is doing.”
“We have tremendous heart,” Napier said. “We just believe in every opportunity that we get that we’re going to be successful. And to be a great team, you want that. We’re not a great team right now, but we’re trying to push for it.”
The Huskies also passed their first major test, playing against a ranked opponent for the first time this season.
“Tip my hat to [Florida head coach] Billy Donovan,” Ollie said. “They are going to be real good. That’s money in the bank right there… In March, they’re going to be a team to be reckoned with. For us to get this win, in this type of environment, it’s a great learning tool for our team.”
The two teams traded runs for three-fourths of the game.
With the Huskies up 14-11 early in the first half, the Gators went on a 13-2 run to pull ahead at 24-16, only to see the hosts counter with three 3-pointers as part of an 11-0 run to retake the lead at 27-24. UConn headed into the break with a 30-29 lead.
Florida took a 48-41 lead with a little over 12 minutes to go in the second half, but a 13-1 run from UConn allowed the Huskies to retake the lead at 54-49 just a few minutes later. The two sides would go on and trade several leads for the final six minutes of the game to set up the dramatic ending.