Watching Shabazz Napier


ARLINGTON, Texas -- Shabazz Napier has been the best player in a fascinating NCAA tournament, one that will conclude with UConn facing Kentucky in the national championship game at AT&T Stadium on Monday night. The 6-foot-1 senior guard has carried Connecticut to wins over Saint Joseph's, Villanova, Iowa State, Michigan State and top-seeded Florida.

The senior finished Saturday's 63-53 win over the Gators with 12 points, six assists, three rebounds and four steals. And that was his worst performance -- on paper -- of the tourney.

His teammates see him operate every day, and they're in awe of his efforts too. Here's their take on the plays, games, moments, character and attitude that have made Napier the star he's become for the Huskies.

Phillip Nolan, sophomore forward

"Whether it's in a big game or a small game, whenever he takes a contested 3-pointer, like off the dribble, I always think, like, man, he's definitely ready for the NBA. ... It was actually last year. I forgot who we were playing against, but he was in the corner, something happened, he, like, did a pivot and just, like, turned backwards and kind of spun and everybody thought he was going this way and he just turned back and shot a fadeaway 3 and he hit it. I'm like, 'Oh my god.'"

DeAndre Daniels, junior forward

"I've been seeing it for three years, so it's nothing really new to me. ... Just ever since we started the season, just how hard he was working and pushing everybody, just how determined he was and focused he was. Now it's just all starting to pay off."

Niels Giffey, senior guard/forward

"I think it might have even been the first tournament game. We were already down against Saint Joe's. People had them winning against us. We never believed we would lose against them. At that point, we were down. Everybody was a little rattled, first tournament game. And I guess a couple of people already had that vision, 'What's going to happen if we lose the first round?' and he's just sitting in the timeout super confident, really calm. Pretty much, [he] calms everybody down just with, just being him and being that leader he is, talking to everybody like 'We've got this. Trust me, we've got this.'"

Pat Lenehan, junior guard

On Napier's buzzer-beater against Florida on Dec. 2: "I'm not on the bench during the tournament because we don't have enough seats, but I was actually on the bench for that. I just remember, when [Daniels] tipped it back to him -- he got the ball at the foul line -- I was pretty much running onto the court already because I knew when it got into his hands he was going to make the shot just because he's that kind of player and that's the mode he wants to be in."

Lasan Kromah, senior guard/forward

"I think we were playing Villanova. After he hurt his shin or something, he came in and knocked down three 3-pointers back-to-back-to-back from long range, defender right in his face. He was real gutty."

Omar Calhoun, sophomore guard

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