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Shabazz Napier, UConn’s closer

Feb 4, 2013, 3:43 PM EDT

Shabazz Napier, Toarlyn Fitzpatrick

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.

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