Honestly I'm at a loss for words right now. How can you possibly describe what we just saw unfold at Gampel Pavilion just now?
Put simply, we just saw Shabazz Napier put the team on his back and carry them to victory. Down 62-59 with time running down, Napier took a three from Shabazz range and not only hit the shot, but drew the foul to earn a chance at a four-point play. He came down awkwardly on his ankle, but shook it off, drained the free throw, and after Florida scored to take the lead on the other end, this happened.
Napier finished with 26 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and his own personal "Kemba" moment in front of at least 25 NBA scouts as he led the Huskies to the 65-64 win over a very good Florida team.
Make no mistake, this was a statement win for the Huskies and proof that as long as Napier stays healthy, the Huskies can play with and beat any team in the country. Even after Florida center Patric Young asserted his dominance in the paint and took over the second half, UConn was able to overcome. The Huskies remain undefeated at 8-0, while Florida drops to 7-2, and over the next few days you can expect to see this shot replayed on SportsCenter over and over while the talking heads trip over themselves to proclaim that UConn is "BACK!"
It's nice to see that the national media is paying attention again, but like Kevin Ollie told ESPN.com this week, UConn isn't back, because UConn never left.
Husky fans have been watching Napier do his thing for three and a half years now, and since the start of last season, Napier has taken the leap to become one of the finest players in school history. He is the team's unquestioned leader, a player who can hit big shots when it counts, make big stops on defense and isn't afraid to show a little emotion now and again when the situation calls for it.
And let me be clear, without Napier, UConn probably gets blown out in this game.
Florida is a very impressive team. They have size and experience at every position, and every time down the court it felt like a different player was doing something incredible. Young was a beast in the paint, Casey Prather threw down a couple of huge dunks en route to a team-leading 19 points, Michael Frazier had a couple of big shots and Scottie Wilbekin scored 15 points before suffering an ankle injury late in the second half.
As a team, Florida shot 49 percent from the floor, outrebounded UConn 30-23 and completely demolished the UConn frontcourt. Phil Nolan and Tyler Olander both fouled out after logging only 11 minutes on the court, and other than one huge block, Amida Brimah was a complete non-factor.
Omar Calhoun had another rough game, scoring two points in 15 minutes, and Lasan Kromah wasn't much better with one point in 17 minutes (although he did have four rebounds and played some nice defense). Ryan Boatright was solid, if not unspectacular, with nine points on 2-for-8 shooting with three rebounds and four assists.
Despite all of that, UConn managed to win anyway.
Outside of Napier, a lot of credit needs to go to DeAndre Daniels, who scored 14 points, grabbed seven rebounds and made an incredible play to tip the ball to Napier on the last shot attempt. Daniels may not quite be at the level he reached at the end of last year, but he is far and away UConn's best frontcourt player right now and probably the second most important player on the team.
Third after Daniels, incredibly, might just be Niels Giffey. Giffey scored eight points and was 2-for-3 from behind the arc. Beyond that, he was composed, played great defense and found a way to create his own shot against some of the best athletes that UConn has faced all season. Considering how poorly Calhoun has played lately, it might not hurt to give Giffey some more minutes at this point. He's definitely earned it.
Bottom line, this was an NCAA Tournament level matchup and it delivered. Neither team ever held a commanding lead, and every time one team went on a run, the other came back with a run of their own. The crowd was batshit crazy, and I dare you to point out another game in December UConn has had more exciting than that one.
UConn will now have a couple of days off before hosting the University of Maine in Hartford in the last game before the team is off for final exams. That game is scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m.