Napier on his game-winner: 'Everyone wants to be a hero'
Storrs - Growing up, Shabazz Napier wanted to be Superman.
"Everyone wants to be a hero," Napier said.
As he's done so many times in recent years, Napier did his best Superman impression on Monday in an intense nonconference battle against No. 15 Florida at Gampel Pavilion.
Napier rescued the 12th-ranked Huskies with a buzzer-beating, game-winning jumper from just inside the foul line, securing a 65-64 victory.
After the buzzer sounded, Napier ran off the court, passing a frenzied Gampel Pavilion student section. His teammates took off after him. Officials checked the monitor and confirmed the basket, setting off another wild celebration when the Huskies returned to the floor.
"As soon as I let it go, I felt like it was going in," Napier said.
Napier scored six of his game-high 26 points in the final 33 seconds to help the Huskies (8-0) overcome a 3-point deficit with 1:12 remaining.
"Shabazz was phenomenal," coach Kevin Ollie said. "Whenever we need a big shot, he makes it. … He's got so much heart. I love the kid to death."
Napier scored his game-winning basket despite being the focus of the Florida defense. After Michael Frazier II scored off a driving layup to hand the Gators (6-2) a 64-63 lead with 17 seconds left, the Huskies came out of a timeout to set up for the final possession.
The Gators trapped Napier, who nearly lost the ball while splitting the defense. Napier's off-balance runner badly missed. But junior DeAndre Daniels tipped the loose ball back into the lane where Napier was waiting.
Napier did the rest.
"I missed it terribly," Napier said of his first attempt, "and I was glad DeAndre ran to the boards. DeAndre put a hand on the ball and it bounced up higher. I was able to be in the right spot at the right time."
While the Huskies were badly outmuscled on the boards, they grabbed several key rebounds, including the biggest one of the game by Daniels (14 points, team-high seven rebounds).
"I was just trying to crash the boards hard and just trying to get a tip just in case he missed," Daniels said. "I guess I glanced it a little bit. But what an amazing shot. Shabazz, he's a great player. He willed his team to win the game. He never gave up. The heart the kid has, everybody on the team follows his lead."
The Huskies won for the fourth time this season in a game that came down to the final possession.
They fought back from a seven-point deficit with about 12 minutes remaining and trailed 62-59 after Florida strongman Patric Young (17 points) converted a three-point play. The Gators played the final three minutes without guard Scottie Wilbekin (15 points), who left with an ankle injury.
UConn kept the ball alive on its next possession with two offensive rebounds. Napier buried a game-tying 3-pointer and got fouled. But he twisted his ankle on the play and stayed down on the floor.
The crowd went wild when Napier got back up. He drained the free throw to finish the four-point play and push UConn in front 63-62 with 33.5 seconds left.
Napier had one more heroic act left to perform to save the Huskies from defeat. Florida coach Billy Donovan called the game-winning shot a fluke play.
"His shot was really luck, the fact the ball was tipped to him." Donovan said.
Ollie pointed to UConn's heart as a major reason for the win.
"I'm happy, but I'm a little exhausted," Ollie said. "Another one-point game but, once again, we showed our resolve. We didn't do a lot of things but, at the end of the day, we got a win, because it's all about our heart."
As long as UConn has its Superman in Napier, the Huskies will be tough to beat.
Napier doesn't think he's Superman.
"Nah, Superman does it on his own," Napier said. "I can't do it without my teammates. They made sure I got the right picks. DeAndre put a hand on the ball in the last second. We found a way to win when we knew we couldn't rebound."