Shabazz Napier's game-winning shots thrust him into Wooden Watch

Tuesday December 10th, 2013

In addition to shooting 50 percent from the floor, Napier is leading the Huskies in rebounding.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Once again, the week's action didn't justify much movement in SI's Wooden Watch, especially at the top. However, just like last week, an undersized senior point guard from a northeastern school has dazzled his way onto the list. Read on.

Spotlight on: Shabazz Napier, Connecticut

What was Shabazz Napier's most heady move on Dec. 2? Most people who watched Connecticut's 65-64 home win over No. 15 Florida that night would agree it happened in the final second, when the Huskies' 6-foot senior point guard grabbed a tipped rebound of his own miss and nailed a 15-foot jumper at the buzzer. But in coach Kevin Ollie's view, it happened about an hour before the game started, when Napier gathered his younger teammates on the Gampel Pavilion floor to go over the nuances of attacking Florida's pick and roll blitz. "I know we're ready to play when Bazz is thinking about those things," says Ollie. "He's playing the game in his head already. That's what the Kobes of the world do, the Kevin Durants of the world do -- they play the game in their heads, so when they get to that moment, they're ready to attack it and make plays for their teammates. That's the mark of a true champion."

The Huskies didn't attack Florida's blue blitz perfectly, says Ollie, "but they did it well enough to win."

Doing what it takes to win is Napier's signature trait. If you paid attention to the Huskies last season -- and maybe you didn't, since they were banned from the postseason and out of the national title picture -- you might know that Napier scored 55 points in 45 minutes of overtime and that UConn won five of their seven OT games. You might even remember that he swished a 30-footer with 0.6 seconds on the clock to win an overtime game at Villanova the season before that. As a clutch player for Connecticut, he frequently draws comparisons to Kemba Walker, the undersized guard who made a buzzer beater to upset Pitt in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Big East tournament on the way to the NCAA title.

But embracing the big moment is not most important thing Napier learned from the player he calls Big Brother. "Kemba's leadership was a big thing to me," says Napier. "That was the biggest problem I had coming in. I didn't know how to be a great leader. I understood only what I needed to do on the court, not necessarily what my teammates needed to do. I didn't know how to talk to my teammates."

Now he also knows how to talk about his teammates. Ask Napier how he, a guard, can be the team's leading rebounder (he's averaging 7 a game) and he'll credit players like 6-9 junior forward DeAndre Daniels. "Honestly, our big guys box out so well that I just have to run and get the ball," says Napier.

One other thing Napier learned from Walker: When you win the game on a last-second shot, a dog pile will follow. That's why Napier bolted for the locker room after the Florida win. "I remember when Kemba made his shot, and guys tried to throw him to the floor," says Napier. "I'm claustrophobic. I don't want anyone grabbing me and throwing me under 20 people. That part of winning is not for me."

1. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State

Smart didn't do anything spectacular in the Cowboys' first game back home after their loss to Memphis in the Old Spice Classic, and he didn't need to. After scoring 11 of his 13 points to help build a 26-point half time lead over visiting South Carolina, he settled into a supporting role and helped four other teammates reach double figures with five assists, four rebounds and two steals. Through nine games, our leader is averaging 19.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.9 steals on 46 percent shooting.

2. Jabari Parker, Duke

In Duke's only game this week, a 79-69 win over Michigan, Parker had a season low in points (15) for the second straight game. But that was actually good news for the Blue Devils, who are starting to develop some offensive weapons besides Parker and Rodney Hood. (As Parker said after the game, "I personally don't want to score all the time and shoot all the shots.") But the best development for Parker and Duke was on the defensive end: The Blue Devils forced the Wolverines to miss 17 of their first 21 shots and held them to just 3 (of 13) threes. Parker through nine games: 22.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 55 percent from the field.

3. Doug McDermott, Creighton

McDermott put the misery of his 7-point performance against George Washington last week far behind him with two more offensive outbursts this week, including a 33-point barrage in a win over Nebraska on Dec. 8, his fourth game of 30 or more points this year. Through nine games, Dougie is doing 25.3 points and 6.9 rebounds on 50 percent shooting.

4. Julius Randle, Kentucky

Randle's homecoming in Dallas on Dec. 6 isn't a memory he's going to cherish. It wasn't just the deathly silence of the apparently sparse crowd (or so it looked on TV) that showed up to the Basketball Showdown between Kentucky and Baylor at AT&T Stadium, site of next April's Final Four. It was the ugly 67-62 loss, in which the Wildcats were outplayed everywhere, especially on the boards. (The Bears outrebounded the Cats 41-25.) Randle was still Kentucky's best player, surviving Baylor's swarming zone defense well enough to produce 16 points, eight rebounds (including three on the offensive glass.) Through nine games, Randle is still averaging a double-double: 17.9 points and 12.1 rebounds.

5. Shabazz Napier, Connecticut

In the Huskies' only game this week, a 95-68 win over Maine on Dec. 6, Napier scored just seven points, but he still pulled off something really cool: his eight assists put him over the 500 mark, making him just the fourth player in school history with at least 1000 points and 500 assists. Through nine games, Bazz is contributing everywhere: 15.3 points, 7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.1 steals, 57 percent from the three.

6. Jahii Carson, Arizona State

The ankle Carson sprained last week has apparently healed. In the Sun Devils' lone game this week, a 78-56 win over DePaul in Chicago on Dec. 6, Carson was back to his explosive self, notching 23 points and five assists to go with nine rebounds and -- yikes -- six turnovers, both season highs. Carson through 10: 20.5 points, 5.1 assists; 53 percent shooting from the three.

7. Russ Smith, Louisville

While sophomore forward Montrezl Harrell carried the offensive load in the paint in the Cardinals' two blowout wins this week, Smith was Mr. Glue Guy, delivering 10 points, 11 assists, six rebounds and three steals against UMKC and 16 points, three steals and three rebounds against Louisiana-Lafayette. Expect more of the same as the Cardinals work through their next three unranked opponents before heading to Lexington on Dec. 28. Smith through nine games: 17.6 points, 4.3 assists, 2 steals, 47 percent FG rate.

8. Andrew Wiggins

Wiggins' only game of the week was a loss (see Askia Booker buzzer beater here), but against Colorado the freshman was as close to breathtaking as we've seen him all year. It wasn't just his 22 points, it was the way he got a lot of them, purposefully yet effortlessly slithering through impossibly tight spaces to get to the rim. Wiggins through eight: 15.3 points; 55 rebounds, 51 percent shooting from the floor.

9. Chaz Williams, Massachusetts

The undefeated Minutemen's 5-9 senior point guard breaks into the top 10 this week with one of those stat lines you have to check twice: 32 points, 15 assists and one turnover in a 105-96 win over BYU. According to ESPN, he's the first college player to record that many points and that many assists in a game in more than a decade. But Williams, who is as skilled at knocking down threes -- he was 5-of-7 against BYU -- as he is twisting through the lane for and-ones, has been a star all season. Through eight games, which include wins over LSU and then No. 19 New Mexico, he is averaging 17.5 points and 7.6 assists -- second in the country -- against 2.9 turnovers.

10. Keith Appling, Michigan State

Even after a 79-65 home loss to North Carolina that Tom Izzo called "one of the more disappointing performances of my career here," Michigan State still gets a spot on the list, and Keith Appling is still the one keeping it warm. He didn't have his best game -- he cobbled together 13 points despite missing 10 of his 15 shots and added three assists -- but after taking a scary fall and landing on his hip, he showed a toughness that Izzo had to like. Appling and Sparty will recover. Appling through eight: 16.4 points; 5.3 assists, 3.1 rebounds.

In the Wings:

Marcus Paige, North Carolina; Casey Prather, Florida; Jordan Adams, UCLA; Nick Johnson, Arizona; Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico; Kyle Anderson, UCLA

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