Napier, Huskies always kept believing

All of that mattered and contributed largely to the Huskies' win but nothing mattered more than Napier, not in this game, not in this entire season.

The senior has spent his entire UConn career chasing a phantom, trying to live up to Walker's magical 2011 run. It was never fair to him, an impossible order to fill for anyone, even someone as talented as Napier.

Of course Napier has done the impossible. It's what he does. He makes shots that aren't supposed to go in; he slices passes that don't have a sliver of an opening. He takes a team that no one thought much about all season and turns it into a national semifinalist because he believes in himself, but more, because he believes in his teammates.

"I remember one time he just pulled up with like four minutes to go, and I'm running back on defense and I'm like, 'Oh my God, oh my God, how did he make that?''' Niels Giffey said. "He has that confidence but it's not just in himself. I'm missing shot after shot after shot but he keeps going to me. He believes in me even more than myself sometimes.''

The Huskies were maybe the only people in the country who believed in themselves this year. They spent last year banned from the postseason due to bad APR scores, a sting so painful that Giffey said he didn't even watch the tournament.

"Why would I do that to myself?'' he said.

Its league's strength uncertain, its head coach unproven, UConn wasn't overlooked at the start of the season. Overlooked would require that the Huskies were even thought of. They weren't.

But Ollie, who strings together motivational clich├ęs like some sort of preaching Yogi Berra, told his team to love one another, trust one another and most of all, believe in one another.

And so, with nothing to prove and even less expected of them, they plodded along through the season. The Huskies won seven of their final nine regular-season games but the ninth -- a 33-point loss to Louisville -- did not exactly portend a Final Four berth.

Except here we are.

"We believed in each other,'' Napier said. "Life gives you opportunities sometimes and sometimes you don't take them by the horns. We understood we had to take them by the horns.''

That's exactly what Velasquez wanted, kids who would live not so much on false hope but create their own hope.

Her life was never easy. For a single mother with three kids, it was never going to be easy. But she preached one thing to her kids -- to be better than her, to succeed more.

All three of them will graduate from college.

Napier, the youngest, is set to graduate this year.

But the baby of the family refused to just be satisfied with his own successes. He wanted more for his mother and so a year ago, he insisted she go back to school. Kids and life conspired to rob Velasquez of a chance to finish her high school diploma. Napier insisted she get her GED.

This year, she will get her diploma.

"He pushed me like I pushed him,'' Velasquez said. "I know he'll say that will be his proudest moment but no, no, this is bigger."

While Velasquez spoke, a woman came over with the game ball in her hand.

"Don't lose that,'' Velasquez said.

Napier had given the ball up grudgingly. After Dan Chapman made a meaningless 3 for Michigan State, Connecticut went through the motions of inbounding the ball. Napier took the pass and took the ball, dribbling it down the court and tucking it under his elbow through his CBS interview and through the initial team photo crush.

"I'm not giving it up, no way,'' he said.

Eventually he surrendered it to a staffer, who then promised Velasquez it would have a safe home.

"The Final Four,'' Velasquez said. "It's magic. Magic.''

And sometimes you have to believe in magic.

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