By John Vogl
Shabazz Napier leads Connecticut in every way possible, both on and off the court. Kevin Ollie would be lying if he said he saw that coming.
“I ain’t going to lie,” the coach said. “There was a couple days that I was like, ‘No, it ain’t ever going to happen.’”
Napier was a rebel when he arrived as a freshman in 2010-11. Kemba Walker was the big man on campus then. Though Walker led the Huskies to the national championship, he still had to battle the new guard on the team.
“When I first started working him out, he was telling Kemba what to do,” said Ollie, who was an assistant coach then. “I was like, ‘What’s this little freshman telling Kemba where to shoot at?’ He was seeing how he was leading, but he still had a little rebellion in him a little bit, wanted to do it his own way.
“But he understood you’re not going to change UConn. UConn is going to change you. He started to conform to that, and now you see him grow into a great, amazing leader. You see everybody following him.”
Napier may have an NBA future ahead of him, but he’s a rarity in that he could go pro while staying in school for four years. The college life allowed him to grow from the wild kid to the mature Player of the Year in the American Athletic Conference. He'll try to become a Sweet 16 player tonight when UConn faces Villanova in First Niagara Center.
“At the end of the day, you get to play the game you love for so many years, and that’s it,” the 22-year-old said. “My mother always told me, ‘One thing no one can take from you is your education.’ I took that to heart.
“I feel as a four-year player you learn a lot, a lot of things that you may not get the chance to learn on the next level. You may not develop as much as you need to develop. A lot of kids struggle with understanding that.
“I just feel like basketball-wise there’s always room for improvement. Outside of basketball, you get a free scholarship to this university. You’ve got to take advantage of that.”
March 22, 2014 - 3:03 PM
By John Vogl
March 21, 2014 - 6:22 PM
By Bob DiCesare
Sometimes the participants are the last to know.
UConn seniors Shabazz Napier and Niels Giffey were fielding questions from the riser Friday afternoon when they were asked to comment on the uncertain nature of the NCAA Tournament, what with Louisville barely escaping and Duke getting beat. It went like this:
Giffey: Duke lost?
Napier Duke lost?
Moderator Paul Vecchio: Duke lost, yeah, to Mercer.
Napier: Oh, wow!
Vecchio: I like your focus. You haven't been paying attention.
Giffey: No, I haven't.
Napier: Wow! That's just how the tournament is. Just on any given day, Duke can lose. Louisville could have lost. Who did they play? Mercer?
Napier: That's a good team.
March 21, 2014 - 6:15 PM
Villanova and Connecticut took different roads to their pending matchup in the NCAA Tournament. UConn advanced with its three-point shooting. Villanova moved on despite it.
UConn earned an 89-81 overtime victory against Saint Joseph's on the strength of its 11-for-24 showing from beyond the arc. The Huskies' accuracy allowed them to stay close after Saint Joseph's came out firing.
Villanova, meanwhile, was just 4 for 23 from three-point land and missed its first 16 attempts. It resulted in a scare for the second-seeded Wildcats, who eventually pulled away for a 73-53 win over Milwaukee.
Villanova will need to shoot much better to drop the Huskies on Saturday in the third round of their East Regional.
"We've had some games like this," coach Jay Wright said today in First Niagara Center. "I think it's like baseball. If you're a .300 hitter, the numbers are going to play out and you're going to make shots.
"I know these guys are good shooters. After it's over and you win, I like it better because you get the confidence that we can win when we're not making shots."
Villanova (29-4) had a shooting percentage of .365 on three-pointers entering the tournament, but it was slowed by James Bell's 0-for-8 showing Thursday. He was 81 of 211 (38.4 percent) during the season.
"As a shooter, you're going to have good nights, and you're going to have bad nights," Bell said. "It's not about making the shots. It's about taking the right ones and recognizing you're open."
March 21, 2014 - 5:51 PM
By John Vogl
During a conversation with Jim Calhoun the other day, the Connecticut coaching legend made it sound like he was ready to come back to the sidelines after two seasons away. Today, ESPN linked him to the opening at Boston College.
The Huskies wouldn't be surprised if Calhoun left his job as a university special assistant to return to coaching.
"He has so much to give," UConn guard Shabazz Napier said in First Niagara Center. "If he feels like he wants to get back in coaching, then so be it. If he does, wherever he goes, I'm going to be a fan of that team.
"Hopefully, when I'm done with my career, he'll give me a job."
Calhoun has a history of putting friends in high places. He hired Kevin Ollie as an assistant, and his former player is now the Huskies' coach. Ollie could see himself challenging his mentor for victories.
"If that's what he wants to do, I'm going to be supporting him," said Ollie, who playfully suggested Calhoun doesn't really want to come back. "I know he's enjoying his vacations he's taking in January playing golf. I don't know if he wants to pass up on those.
"But if he wants to get back in the game, more power to him. He earns that right. He earns that respect."
March 21, 2014 - 4:26 PM
By Rodney McKissic
Both are coming off strong performances in their second round matchups on Thursday. In his first NCAA Tournament game, Ennis helped the Orange easily dispatch Western Michigan, 77-53, with 16 points and six assists.
In the Flyers 60-59 upset over Ohio State, Dayton trailed 57-55 when Pierre was fouled on a three-point attempt with 26 seconds left and calmly canned all three free throws. That proved to be the difference after each team exchanged baskets, including Vee Stanford’s winner.
“Dyshawn is one of those players where you have to watch him a couple of games to really appreciate how good he is,” Ennis said. “I’ve watched him go up against nearly everybody in that class and really go at them. He’s really an underrated player and one of their keys.”
Ennis played one summer with Pierre on Bounce, the program run by Tony McIntyre, Ennis’ father. He starred at Anderson Collegiate Vocational Institute in Whitby, Ont., where he registered over 3,500 points and nearly 1,800 rebounds.
“At first you look at him and his game is a little awkward but as you keep watching him you can see his mid-range game and finishing around the basket,” Ennis said. “Offensively, he has the full package but he does a great job.”
Ennis spoke with Pierre briefly today about Bounce alums still the NCAAs and making noise throughout college basketball. That includes Ennis’ brother, Dylan, from Villanova, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Iowa State’s and Melvin Ejim and Naz Long.
“It will be a great day for Canada basketball to have two players on this level contributing and going at each other,” Ennis said. “It’s a big step for us to have this many players and having so many contributors not only playing on these teams but contributing throughout the country.”
March 21, 2014 - 3:18 PM
By Mark Gaughan
The University of Dayton basketball coaching staff has an "insider" to help it prepare for Saturday's meeting with Syracuse University.
Dayton aide Allen Griffin spent four years playing under Jim Boeheim at Syracuse and was a starting guard for two of his seasons. Griffin said he has no great secret to solving Syracuse's vaunted zone.
"You can’t make up a secret for 7-foot, 6-11 and 6-8," Miller said before his team's practice session today at First Niagara Center. "We’ve just got to be aggressive and confident against the zone."
Miller maintains a close relationship with Boeheim, as well as Syracuse assistants Mike Hopkins and Adrian Autry.
ll send Julie some text messages throughout the year. I talk to Adrian every day, pretty much. ... Coach Hopkins is probably the mentor for me in this business. Whenever I run into a jam or a situation, I make sure that I call him and get his advice."
Boeheim said he still considers Griffin an Orangeman.
"I know he’s got under -- someplace on him -- he’s got something orange," Boeheim said. "It’s not going to be in view. He’s a great kid, a great Syracuse, as good as we’ve ever had."
March 20, 2014 - 10:27 PM
By John Vogl
How Connecticut won: The Huskies stayed closed to the front-running Hawks with impressive three-point shooting. They shot 45.8 percent from beyond the arc and finished the game with 11 threes. Once they got to overtime, the hot hand transferred to their free throws. UConn went 15 for 16 from the line to pull away from the No. 10 seed.
Turning point: Shabazz Napier outscored the Hawks, 7-1, during a late overtime spurt to turn a slim 75-73 lead into an 82-74 advantage with 1:01 remaining. Saint Joseph's didn't get within five the rest of the way.
Player of the game: Napier lived up to the hype that accompanies the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year. He paced the seventh-seeded Huskies with 24 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Stat of the game: As we mentioned, UConn went 15 of 16 from the free-throw line in overtime. Saint Joseph's went just 3 of 6.
He said it: "We're all here for one common goal. If someone told you different, it's a lie. They play with so much competitiveness and passion that we had to do the same on our end." -- Napier.
Up next: Saturday vs. winner of No. 2 Villanova and No. 15 Milwaukee
March 20, 2014 - 10:09 PM
By John Vogl
It wasn't long ago that Amida Brimah was kicking a soccerball around in his native Ghana. The NCAA Tournament wasn't even a dot on his radar.
The Connecticut Huskies are sure glad he showed up on theirs.
The 7-foot freshman center, who has been playing basketball for only four years, is a big reason why UConn survived a scare from Saint Joseph's and escaped with a 89-81 victory tonight in First Niagara Center. With his team down three points in the final minute, Brimah secured an offensive rebound, was fouled on his successful layup and drained the free throw to make it 70-all with 39 seconds remaining.
Brimah, who shot 57.1 percent from the free-throw line this season, made two more in overtime as the seven-seeded Huskies prevailed.
"Coach was on me the whole game about rebounding, rebounding, I had to get a rebound," Brimah said. "When I got it, I heard someone call my name, but I realized I was closer to the basket, so I just shot a hook shot."
That was only the start of the play. If he'd missed the free throw, the effort might have been for naught. He relied on lessons learned with assistant coach Glen Miller.
"I got nervous a little bit, but I said, ‘I got this,'" Brimah said. "I just prayed on the free-throw line. I said, ‘God, help me make this,’ and I just shot it and made it. I’ve been working with coach Miller on my free throws, so that also got me better."
Ghana native Nana Baafi discovered Brimah during a recruiting trip to his home country and brought him to his home in Florida.
"I never thought I was going to be in this position right now," Brimah said. "I was going to school one day and he saw me and was like I’m wasting my talent in Ghana, and he brought me here. I just wanted to come and see.
"It was the best decision I ever made to come into UConn. It’s going to be interesting. People don’t expect a lot from us, but we came here to win the championship. We’re going to prove them wrong."
March 20, 2014 - 9:27 PM
By John Vogl
Shabazz Napier definitely lived up to the hype.
Napier, the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, refused to let Connecticut falter in its return to the NCAA Tournament. The senior guard finished with 24 points, including nine in overtime, as the Huskies downed pesky Saint Joseph’s, 89-81, tonight in First Niagara Center.
Napier led the seventh-seeded Huskies across the board, adding eight rebounds and six assists to his point total. Napier averaged 17.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists this season.
The 10th-seeded Hawks gave the Huskies all they could handle in a game that featured 13 lead changes.
Saint Joseph’s built a 10-point lead with 3:16 left in the first half, but UConn steadily chipped away at its deficit. The Huskies finished the opening half on an 8-3 run to make it 40-35, and they continued after leaving locker room by scoring the first two baskets to make it 40-39.
The teams exchanged 6-0 runs, and UConn stayed within four before finally catching the Hawks. Napier was fouled on a successful drive, and he made the free throw to give UConn a 55-53 lead with 9:14 remaining.
It was the Huskies’ first lead since a 16-15 advantage with 8:23 gone in the game.
The Hawks, who use just seven players, had enough wind to rally. They regained the lead and built a five-point advantage, 64-59, with 5:11 to play.
Another UConn three-pointer, this time by DeAndre Daniels, put the Huskies ahead, 67-66, with 2:09 to play. After the Hawks regained the lead, a traditional three-point plaby Amida Brimah made it 70-70 with just 39 seconds remaining.
Saint Joseph’s Langston Galloway, eating up time with three seconds differential between the game and shot clock, tried to set up his team for the late lead but botched his dribble and missed wildly on a desperation drive.
UConn inbounded the ball with 2.7 seconds left with a well-designed play that gave Napier an open running jumper, but he missed to send the teams to overtime. The Huskies took care of the game at the free-throw line to earn the right to play Saturday against the winner of tonight’s late East Region game between No. 2 Villanova and No. 15 Milwaukee.
March 20, 2014 - 7:45 PM
By John Vogl
Folks who walked in from the cold for Buffalo’s evening session of the NCAA Tournament got warmed up in a hurry.
Saint Joseph’s and Connecticut came out on fire in their East Region matchup. Saint Joseph's ran to the dressing room for halftime with a 40-35 advantage.
The 10th-seeded Hawks built a 30-23 lead with impressive net-finding ability. They shot 12 of 18 (66.7 percent) from the field, including a handful of dunks by senior forward Ronald Roberts Jr. The Hawks finished the first half at 56 percent.
UConn responded by being deadly from beyond the arc. The Huskies hit four of their first seven three-pointers to keep the game close. UConn went to halftime 6 of 11 (54.5 percent) from long distance.
The previous game in First Niagara Center was a rout by Syracuse, which led from the opening basket to the buzzer, but the Hawks and Huskies proved to be much more competitive early. The teams had eight lead changes in the opening 8:23 before Saint Joseph’s went on a 12-4 run to take a 27-20 lead.
The Hawks had a 10-point advantage (37-27) with 3:16 to go, but UConn finished the half with an 8-3 run.
Connecticut senior forward Niels Giffey, the Huskie’s fourth-leading scorer and rebounder, picked up three fouls in the first half.
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About Campus Watch
Western New York native Bob DiCesare covers UB football, Big 4 basketball and writes an occasional column. He still holds a grudge against Chris Ford who, he's convinced, cost St. Bonaventure the 1970 NCAA basketball championship.
Rodney McKissic began his journalism career in 1989 after graduating from the University of Cincinnati and has worked for The Buffalo News since 2001. A proud father of four children, he enjoys reading in his spare time.
Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered colleges for The Buffalo News since 1999. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.
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