Shabazz Napier, Toarlyn Fitzpatrick

Shabazz Napier, UConn’s closer

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UConn is currently on a three-game winning streak, which has improved their record to 5-3 in the Big East and has kept them within striking distance of first place in the conference.

The Huskies are just a game back of Marquette and Syracuse, which is quite an impressive achievement for a team that has to play Enosch Wolf for extended minutes in the middle after the departure of Andre Drummond, Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith this offseason.

The reason for the Huskies’ success is usually attributed to their back court of Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier, but there’s more to the story than that.

It’s not a secret that UConn doesn’t have anything to play for this season beyond a regular season title. They aren’t going to the Big East tournament. They aren’t going to the NCAA tournament. They are playing for pride, and they’re doing it well. UConn has been involved in four overtime games this season. One of those games went to double-overtime. They are 3-1 in those games, with the one loss involving a blown call by a referee.

This past week, UConn was taken to overtime by both Providence and South Florida. Shabazz Napier had 19 points in the extra sessions of those two games, building on a trend that has been developing this season. From UConn beat writer Kevin Duffy:

In 24:40 of overtime this year, Napier has 34 points on a remarkable 18-of-20 shooting from the free throw line. That’s a 40-minute average of 55.2 points per game. Wow.

[…]

Napier has averaged 6.75 points in the first half this season. In the second and overtime, he’s scoring 10.45. His totals: 130 points on 45-for-96 shooting from the floor in the first half; 213 points on 59-for-137 shooting for the rest of the game. It’s a reflection of Napier becoming more aggressive in crunch time.

It’s a shame that UConn is irrelevant nationally this season, because Napier — and Boatright, for that matter — is having a terrific year.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: