Napier, Huskies always kept believing


NEW YORK -- She used to sneak out of work at lunchtime and drive wherever the game was being played.

Sometimes when she went back to work the next day, she didn't have a job, her boss fed up with an absentee employee.

And then there would be another game, another job and she would do it all over again. The bills would come in and Carmen Velasquez would hole up in her bedroom while she tried to figure out a solution to an unsolvable problem.

"I didn't care,'' Velasquez said. "My kids came first. My kids always came first. I'd do it all over again if I had to because they knew. They knew it wasn't easy, but they knew I was there for them. It was worth it.''

Her voice so hoarse even a whisper was almost too much, Velasquez then started to cry. Because believing something is worth sacrificing and realizing the reward isn't always immediate.

But the believers never stop clinging to the hope. It's why they call it blind faith. That's what Velasquez did.

And that's what she taught her son to do.

Shabazz Napier led Connecticut to a fairy tale Final Four courtesy of a  60-54 win over Michigan State because he scored 25 points and had four assists; because he, like Kemba Walker, the man whose bar he tried to reach for four years, scored or assisted on 45 percent of his team's points en route to the Final Four.

But mostly because Napier, who lost his coach, his conference and a postseason in one year, had faith it could happen even when no one else did.

"I've been through a lot and I've succeeded in some of them and failed in some of them, many, many times,'' Napier said. "But it doesn't hurt to try. You never know how successful you can be until you try.''

The lead-up to this game was about Napier and the improbable Huskies trying to stop Michigan State from achieving what has become a birthright under Tom Izzo. In 19 years as a head coach, Izzo had never failed to lead a senior class to the Final Four.

Turns out, though, coaches can only do so much.

The ones who get you to the Final Four are the players, the ones who embrace the moment with arms wide-open, who hit pull-up jumpers with the clock winding down, the lead dwindling and the Final Four waiting, who calmly sink free throws when an entire state is watching, afraid to exhale.

Which is exactly what Napier did, scoring the jumper with 1:45 left and the three dagger free throws at the :30 mark to push the Huskies' lead to five.

The UConn win ends what has been a brutally tough year for Michigan State. Besieged by injuries, the Spartans really only came into their own this month.

"We did not bring our A-game today and we got what we deserved today,'' Izzo said. "I tried to tell these guys that when you get into the tournament, you got to bring it every second. And today Connecticut did and we just weren't as good as we have been.''

Ryan Boatright's on-ball defense all but gave the Spartan guards a case of the yips. DeAndre Daniels, Phillip Nolan and Amida Brimah chased Michigan State out of their bread and butter spot so well that the Spartans not only finished with a measly six points in the paint, they ended up putting  Branden Dawson on a milk carton (he finished with five points).

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