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Shabazz Napier's big game helps UConn beat Memphis, more Saturday hoops

Shabazz Napier was unstoppable in UConn's OT win over Memphis. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)Shabazz Napier was unstoppable in UConn's OT win over Memphis. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

No. 24 UConn 86, No. 20 Memphis 81: Watching Memphis and UConn play against each other on Saturday was like listening to a group of talented studio musicians jamming before the red recording light finally goes on. You get a look behind the curtain to view what people normally aren’t invited to see, and you breathlessly watch hoping no one is going to shoo you out for trespassing. When it’s all over all you can do is walk out smiling and nodding your head.

Shabazz Napier gave a virtuoso performance, scoring 34 points on a variety of moves and shots all over the floor, adding five rebounds and four assists. His and-one with under a minute to play tied it up at 69, and that’s where the game stood heading to overtime, although Napier’s three-point attempt at the buzzer was halfway down. In the extra period, he made up for it with another big three.

This close to another Napier buzzer-beater. GIF:  on Twitpic

(h/t @diehardsport)

This game had the feel of an NCAA Tournament game. Every time one side of the floor would hit a big shot or get a runout, the other seemed to respond on the next possession.Both of these teams are in a dogfight for potential seeding in the AAC, with Cincinnati and Louisville likely occupying the top two spots heading into March. A win for Memphis would go a long way toward proving it might not flame out down the stretch. An escape by the Huskies sets them up nicely down the stretch run, with games against SMU, the Bearcats and Louisville left.

Memphis played to its competition, which has been its calling card all year – the Tigers looked downright poor against a reeling UCF team earlier this week – and without the hero ball effort of Napier, on another day they might have stolen a critical road win.

No. 17 Virginia 63, Clemson 58: The Cavaliers hadn’t won at Littlejohn Coliseum since 2007, and with a hungry Clemson team desperate for another signature win this season under Brad Brownell, snapping that losing streak wasn’t going to be easy.

Ultimately the Hoos did what they (and ACC-leading Syracuse) have been able to do throughout the conference season: eek out tough victories on the road. Virginia senior Joe Harris put up 16 points, including a big floater in the lane at the two-minute mark to give UVA a five-point lead.

Clemson went up 21-14 with just over eight minutes to play in the first. When the Tigers finally scored again, it was 26-23 Virginia. Clemson came out in the second half with more fire than it ended the first, grabbing a 33-31 lead after a three from reserve forward Austin Ajukwa (who would hit another big trey with 1:43 to play).

There was a bit of back-and-forth as Clemson kind of looked like it was waiting around for K.J. McDaniels (24 points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals, three blocks) to get going again in the second half. A free throw with 12:15 left gave him his first point of the second half. Just a bit later, well, he did this:

And then McDaniels did everything he could to keep his team from losing.

Clemson’s NCAA hopes were on the ropes coming into this game and a signature win would have made the Tigers’ résumé a lot more appealing (that Duke win can only go so far). Now they’ll have to go on a run the rest of the way and likely have to beat Pittsburgh on March 8. Brownell coaches his guys to the extent of their abilities, and that leads to being in games maybe they shouldn’t be, but until Clemson recruits at a bit of a higher level (McDaniels notwithstanding), the ceiling is always going to be bouncing around the bubble.

UNC 75, No. 25 Pittsburgh 71: Just a few weeks ago, it looked like UNC was dead and buried and likely NIT bound. But talent tends to win out when a team is slumping, and now the Tar Heels are surging. For those keeping score at home, the Pitt win gives them six in a row, and with the Duke game postponed to next week, North Carolina will be drawing the Blue Devils in a packed week where they’ll be on short rest. (Although they can’t look past that road game against Florida State, whether the ‘Noles are slumping or not.)

Marcus Paige had a strong second half, hitting five threes on the day (something that was a problem for the Heels during their cold start to ACC play), and James Michael McAdoo added 24 points of his own. For Pitt, the Panthers should probably just turn the page (sorry that’s a bad pun, I’ll put a quarter in the jar) on a gut-wrenching week where they came up empty in two big games they almost-might-have-could-have won.

No. 12 Saint Louis 64, VCU 62: If I’m a college basketball coach and my team is headed to the NCAA Tournament, I don't want Saint Louis on my side of the bracket. The Billikens play tough defense, make you play their game whether you like it or not, have experience all over the roster and have a multi-dimensional offense. Matching up against them is like trying to win a game of Guess Who in three moves or fewer sure it can be done, but it requires pinpoint accuracy and a lot of luck.

Take Saturday’s game against VCU, the second-best team in the Atlantic 10. Shaka Smart’s “Havoc” barely registered at points throughout, although the Rams did make runs in the second half (including runs of 7-0 and 9-0) when it looked like the game was getting out of hand. VCU tied it up at 53 with just over 2:20 to play, but Saint Louis recovered to snatch the win away from the Rams.

The Billikens will have a chance to extend their impressive 17-game winning streak to 18 against George Mason on Feb. 19.

No. 16 Iowa 82, Penn State 70: I did not get to watch this game, but Iowa won. Way to go Hawkeyes, I am proud of you. I am sorry but I wanted to be honest with you all I will make it up to everyone I promise. Apparently this was a thing that happened during the game, though:

If you've ever thought the last minute of a game creeps by thanks to constant fouls, here's PSU—down 10+—doing it for THREE minutes.

— Adam Jacobi (@Adam_Jacobi) February 15, 2014

No. 11 Iowa State 70, Texas Tech 64: The Cyclones desperately needed to bounce back after being bum-rushed by West Virginia on Monday. After having a few days to think about it, ISU looked like it was going to get right against the Red Raiders. But after jumping out to a big lead, the Cyclones let Texas Tech back in it and had to sweat out the finish. Iowa State did shoot almost 52 percent and assisted on 21 of its 28 made field goals, so there are positives to be gleamed from here. Fred Hoiberg’s bunch has Texas next.

Oklahoma 77, Oklahoma State 74: Make it six losses in a row for Oklahoma State, which has seen its season fall into a sinkhole like those Corvettes in Kentucky earlier this week. There will be a few chances to turn it around once Marcus Smart returns, and there’s always the Big 12 Tournament as the great equalizer. But right now this team is watching its once-big dreams disappear. Buddy Hield had 22 points, three boards and three steals in the win for the Sooners, and human double-double Ryan Spangler added 12 points and 13 rebounds.

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