You’re going to see the highlight of Shabazz Napier’s game-winning, 15-foot jumper on repeat over the course of the night and tomorrow morning.
No, it’s not on the level of Auburn’s miracle touchdown in their win over Alabama on Saturday night, but it’s the most exciting play of the college basketball season to date. It may be the wildest buzzer-beater we see this season given the amount that the ball bounced all over the place over the course of the last five seconds.
It was nuts. The UConn fans, and the UConn team, rightfully went nuts.
But, at the end of the day, the shot that Napier hit was basically a free throw.
The more impressive shot that he made was the contested 25-footer he hit on UConn’s previous possession, the one where he drew a foul and rolled his ankle on the same play. He shook off the injury long enough to hit the free throw and, 30 seconds later hit the game-winner.
Napier finished the night with 26 points in the 65-64 win over No. 15 Florida. He was 9-for-15 from the floor and 5-for-8 from three, but more importantly, he was the guy that was up for the challenge every single time that UConn needed a big shot. When the Gators went on a run, he was the guy that would step up to answer the bell. He, at the very least, feigned interest in getting the rest of his team involved throughout the game.
But everyone in the building and everyone on TV knew exactly who was going to be getting the ball at the end of the game, which is why, on both of the final two possessions, you can see Florida actively trying to get the ball out of Shabazz’s hands.
This UConn team has some shades of the 2011 UConn team that won the national title on the shoulders of Kemba Walker. They’re led by a dynamic lead guard with a penchant for performing in the clutch. They have a couple of talented perimeter players to surround him with. Their 6-foot-9 power forward likes shooting threes more than he does posting up. Their big men have more promise and potential than they do ability at this point.
That doesn’t change the fact that this UConn team is tough to get a feel for. Yes, their 8-0 record is pretty and obviously those wins over Maryland, Boston College, Indiana and Florida are impressive. But those wins came by a grand total five points. I’m not one of these guys that is going to sit here and tell you that being “clutch” doesn’t exist, but I will say that the law of averages will tell you that, eventually, those game-winning shots are going to even themselves out. The comparison that I’ll make here is Butler from the 2012-2013 season. They were ranked in the top ten after beating Gonzaga on that fluky game-winner last season. It was their third buzzer-beating win of the season. They ended up being a No. 6 seed that, fittingly, lost in a fluky finish to No. 3 seed Marquette on the Round of 32.
That’s where I am on UConn right now.
Is this team really on the verge of being in the top ten? Are they really a Final Four contender with a shot at winning the national title?
Or is this a good team that has just so happened to make a few crucial plays in the final minutes?
If they have to rely on this kind of a performance from Napier every time out, it might be the latter.