Shabazz Napier found the ideal way to soothe any hurt feelings stemming from the way he blasted his teammates following UConn's loss to Marquette on Saturday.
The sophomore point guard sank the game-winning shot two nights later, a 3-pointer from one dribble inside the mid-court line with less than a second to go in overtime to give UConn a much-needed 73-70 victory at Villanova. Napier had time to get closer to the rim before pulling up to shoot, but the Huskies will gladly take the end result.
Napier's shot helped UConn secure a game it couldn't afford to lose in its quest to avoid becoming only the fifth team since the field expanded to 64 to miss the NCAA tournament the year after winning the national title. Most bracket projections still include the Huskies (17-10, 7-8), but their margin had grown slim thanks to nine losses in their past 13 games entering Monday night.
The situation had grown so desperate for UConn that Napier lashed out at his teammates on Saturday, casting doubt on their effort and commitment after a hapless home loss to Marquette. Said a frustrated Napier, "I hate to say it, but I gotta question some of these guys' heart."
Although Napier's heroics will receive the most attention Monday night, UConn needed big plays from several of his teammates just to get to overtime.
Jeremy Lamb scored 32 points on 11-of-21 shooting, helping the Huskies rally to tie the game at halftime after trailing 24-8 less than 10 minutes into the game. Alex Oriakhi put back Lamb's errant 3-pointer with 23 seconds to go in regulation to tie the game at 60 and help force overtime. And Andre Drummond had five blocks and 11 rebounds to spark an improved defensive effort from the Huskies.
Narrowly edging a reeling Villanova team that is without star Maalik Wayns shouldn't be reason to celebrate for UConn, but it certainly beats the alternative. Had the Huskies lost on Monday night, they would have needed to beat second-ranked Syracuse on Saturday to have any chance to even finish .500 in the Big East.
Now UConn can eke out a 9-9 conference record if it falls to Syracuse but finishes with wins over Providence and Pittsburgh. That might not guarantee an NCAA bid, but it definitely would give the Huskies a good chance entering the Big East tournament.
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