Napier named All-AAC

Memphis, Tenn. — This is expected to a busy awards season for UConn senior Shabazz Napier.

Napier picked up two honors on Tuesday, earning a spot on the American Athletic Conference first team and being named the United States Basketball Writers Association District I Player of the Year for the second straight season.

"Napier is a stud," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said.

Napier joined Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick and Louisville's Russ Smith as unanimous selections to the first team. The AAC Player of the Year, which will be announced today, will surely go to one of the three guards.

UConn center Amida Brimah made the AAC rookie team. He's averaging 4.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and a team-best 2.4 blocks per game.

In the AAC, Napier is the only player ranked in the top 15 in scoring (17.8 points, 2nd), rebounding (6.0, 13th) and assists (5.2, 2nd). He's also second in free throw shooting percentage (87.7) and third in steals at 1.8 per game.

"He leads us in all the important categories," coach Kevin Ollie said. "He just means so much to our team dynamic."

Southern Methodist University's Nic Moore and Louisville's Montrezl Harrell rounded out the first team.

The following players were named to the AAC second team: Central Florida's Isaiah Sykes, Cincinnati's Justin Jackson, SMU's Markus Kennedy, Houston's TaShawn Thomas and the Memphis duo of Shaq Goodwin and Joe Jackson.

Memphis forward Austin Nichols was the only unanimous selection to the all-rookie team, making him the heavy favorite to win the league's top rookie honor. Louisville's Terry Rozier and Central Florida's John Egbunu and Chris Perry also made the team.

The AAC tournament begins today in Memphis. Awards winners for top rookie, player, defender, coach, scholar-athlete, sixth man and most improved player will be announced this afternoon.

Napier also is a finalist for the Wooden Award and is in the running for the Naismith Trophy and Oscar Robertson Trophy UConn junior Ryan Boatright joined Napier on the 10-player All-District I team.

Going for three

Ollie was asked about UConn's confidence level heading into Thursday night's quarterfinal game against Memphis (ESPNU, 9:30), a team that the Huskies beat twice during the regular season.

UConn won 83-73 at FedEx Forum on Jan. 16 and 86-81 in overtime on Feb. 15 in Hartford. The Huskies shot 57 percent in the first game, but only 39 percent in game two and won behind Napier's 34 points and by outscoring Memphis, 29-6, from the foul line.

"Memphis is a great team," Ollie said. "They're playing great basketball right now. To beat Louisville there and beat SMU there, we're 0-4 against those teams, so we don't have supreme confidence.

"We do have confidence in ourselves, but Memphis is a different team than we faced in the XL Center."

Napier, who averaged 25.5 points versus Memphis, knows the Huskies will probably have to play their best game to win on Thursday.

"It's always tough beating a team three times in a row," Napier said. "It doesn't make it easy for us.

Offensive woes

UConn are stuck in an offensive rut, only averaging 58.7 points in the last six games. The Huskies had a season low for points in an 81-48 loss at Louisville in the regular season finale on Saturday.

"The last time we scored well…, we scored 86 against Memphis," Ollie said. "The other games were tough executing, getting down to where it was a crawl. We need to get out and run, and that starts with rebounding but also executing, too.

"The last three or four games our guards been struggling. … We've got to get back to not only taking good shots but passing up good shots for great shots. Hopefully, they understand that."

g.keefe@theday.com

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