Napier And Boatright Struggle In Loss To Villanova

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UConn Vs. Villanova

UConn's Ryan Boatright looks for help while being double teamed by Villanova guard Tony Chennault and forward Daniel Ochefu in the 1st half at the XL Center in Hartford Saturday. UConn lost 61-70. Boatright scored 4 points in the loss. (MICHAEL McANDREWS, Hartford Courant / February 16, 2013)

Something good was going to happen for those two UConn guards. The 15,165 fans knew it. Shabazz Napier knew it. Heck, Jay Wright knew it.

"Those two guards are two of the best in the country," the Villanova coach said after his Wildcats had throttled UConn 70-61 Saturday afternoon at the XL Center.

Wright looked down at the stat sheet at halftime. He saw his team was only behind 33-30. He also saw that Napier, who spent 11 minutes on the bench with two fouls, and Ryan Boatright had combined for no points. That was foreboding.

"We're like, 'Wow, we're down three and those guys haven't gotten it going yet,'" Wright said. "It doesn't look good here."

We'd seen it over and over. Against Quinnipiac, against South Florida, against Providence, against Seton Hall, even in losses like the one against St. John's: UConn had gone long stretches without Napier scoring and then — boom — a deluge of points. Against Quinnipiac at the Paradise Jam, he had six points with 3:24 remaining. By the time UConn won in double overtime, he had 29. Against USF, the Huskies fell behind 27-15 in their worst first half of the season, but there was Napier again with 12 of his 24 points in an overtime victory.

"We've seen that," Wright said, shaking his head. "Last year …"

Oh, that's right. Napier hit a 29-footer with 0.6 seconds left in overtime to beat Villanova in Philly.

Even when James Bell hit a three after JayVaughn Pinkston pulled in a rebound of a missed three to put 'Nova up by five with 6:34 left, everybody knew something good was going to happen. Even when Pinkston missed two free throws, Darrun Hilliard grabbed the rebound and found Bell for an open three to put Villanova up six with 5:16 left, good things still were going to happen.

Only they didn't.

Only bad stuff happened on this day for those two guards.

The fewest points they had combined for this season was 19 against St. John's. And that was after Napier sat the opening five minutes for being late to a team function and Boatright was benched for nine minutes in the second half. In eight games, they scored between 38 and 47 points. They averaged 32.8 of the team's 71.4 points, and clearly every decimal point of that 32.8 was needed.

Well, on this day they combined for six. And even that's misleading. Boatright scored his four points in the final 51 seconds of garbage time after UConn had fallen 13 points behind.

Napier was bad on this day.

Boatright was far worse.

"[Napier] was in out of foul trouble," Ollie said. "That throws a player's rhythm off. Ryan, they bottled him up. Ryan had a great game against Syracuse. I expect him to come back next game."

There has been a sign held up in the student section in recent games. It screams, "Welcome to Olliewood." It's terribly clever and with so many folks pushing Kevin Ollie as Big East Coach of the Year, certainly Olliewood has been the land of large effort by an undersized team. The fact is, it's still an undersized team, and although the Huskies obviously can rebound better, they're still not a good rebounding team. They were destroyed at Providence, 55-24, and still somehow won in overtime.

The Huskies' guards are the tick-tock, tick-tock of this season's delightful story. They are especially adept at pulling rabbits out of hats. On this day, however, Napier and Boatright could only pull out a wet book of matches, an old tuna fish sandwich and a couple of moldy socks.

Napier did have 10 assists to go with his five turnovers and 1 of 8 shooting, including 0 of 5 on threes. He was trying to do other things. Boatright had one assist to go with his five turnovers in 31 minutes. What he showed mostly on this day was bad body language. The two combined to shoot 3 of 15.

"Our defensive effort in the second half with those two knowing they had to get it going and us containing them, that's something we're going to hang our hat on — it was key," Wright said. "Those guys are smart. They are tough. They come off screens. We defended a lot of different options."

"We played them as a team. Sometimes we trapped them. Sometimes we denied them. Sometimes we switched on screens. We did different things."

Ollie saw it a slightly different way. He said the game came down to rebounding and toughness. He said Villanova won the street fight. UConn got killed 20-5 on the offensive boards. It led to too many possessions for Villanova and a 20-8 bulge in second-chance points. Ollie, however, would also acknowledge those 19 turnovers. And let's be real. If those two guards don't produce, UConn doesn't win.

"Villanova played good gap defense," Ollie said. "We had to move the ball against them, get in our cracks. And then we have to hit our shots. But we couldn't get out in transition because of offensive rebounds. If you keep us in the half-court game, you can bottle the two guys up; getting out in transition gets them their layups and gets them their threes. Then they get confidence and make plays in the half court."

All true, and the guards still played lousy.

Said Napier, "They usually blitz the ball carrier when it comes off screens. I try to tell my guys, if that happens, cut through the middle, it's an easy basket. We weren't able to do that much. I was being too passive."

Kemba Walker, on NBA All-Star break, got a standing ovation when he was introduced in the second half. Still, nobody figured that Kemba would need to suit up, break a couple of ankles and hit one at the buzzer for old-time giggles. Everybody figured that Napier would figure it out. Hey, Napier did, too.

"I figured I was going to score more in the second half," Napier said. "I came out aggressive on my first bucket, second one I missed. Coach started drawing up plays, getting other guys involved. I was doing whatever it takes to help the team. I was trying to be aggressive at the same time. It didn't work so well. I didn't pick the right spots to shoot."

Napier wanted to make a point. He said a leader has to give himself up for the team at times, especially when he is shooting awful.

"I wasn't able to score, but I tried my best on defense and passing the ball," he said. "[Boatright] has got to learn you have to find other ways to be productive. I learned that my freshman year when Kemba was a scorer. He's young. He didn't have a chance to learn that as freshman. We wanted him to score right away."

"It's tough for him to understand that offensively he may not be there, but we want him defensively or helping us rebound. It's hard when you're not scoring. I was getting frustrated myself. I understand as a leader I've got to keep my composure and do what's best for the team rather than what's best for me."

And then Napier stopped. He stressed that Boatright wasn't the reason the Huskies lost.

"We all played terrible," he said. "And I didn't shoot well. It's tough to win that way."

And on a day like this, it was impossible.

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