Who's the guy next to Napier?
MAR 29, 2014 4:41p ET
NEW YORK (AP) Michigan State coach Tom Izzo had no intent to slight Connecticut guard Ryan Boatright.
It's just that his backcourtmate's name is on everyone's mind as the Final Four approaches.
''I think that we go from a team that was so physical and big with huge guards, to a team that has maybe the quickest guard tandem in the country in Shabazz - and Boatright,'' Izzo said Saturday, the day before the fourth-seeded Spartans meet seventh-seeded Connecticut in the East Regional finals of the NCAA tournament.
Shabazz Napier has been the Huskies' star this season. From his buzzer-beating jumper that handed Florida its last loss way back on Dec. 2, to his team-leading 17.8 points per game to the basketful of awards that includes the American Athletic Conference player of the year trophy.
Boatright, who is listed at 6-foot, an inch shorter than Napier, is a junior who has scored in double figures in 61 of his 91 games with the Huskies. He had 16 points in the 81-76 semifinal win over third-seeded Iowa State. Napier had 19 points.
''You got to take it,'' Boatright said of being the Huskies' co-star. ''He's a great player. You can't let that stop you. You got to go out there and perform also. It's not about the attention. The longer we win everybody gets the attention. You always find the positive in everything. That's one of the things I learned from Coach.''
Then Boatright smiled the way somebody getting in the last word would.
''Even though he gets a lot of the attention, we all look at it like he's going to get all the traps too, so we should be open,'' he said.
Napier, a senior, helps the situation by being one of the most humble stars in sports. When he deflects attention toward his teammates he means it. This season he has had to do it a lot.
''The way I am I don't care about those things and I don't think he would care about,'' Napier said of Boatright. ''I don't want to be known as a guy who won individual awards. I want to be known as the guy at the end of the day he and his team were triumphant. I don't flaunt things in his face just to make him upset. I'm doing the things I'm doing on the court because of Ryan. I am where I am because of my guys.''
The Spartans, who beat top-seeded Virginia 61-59 in the regional semifinals, certainly won't overlook Boatright or any of the Huskies in getting ready for Sunday's game at Madison Square Garden.
''I think our guys know that you don't get to an Elite Eight if you're a one-dimensional team,'' Izzo said. ''We're going to hit all players (in the scouting report) because we've got to stop everybody, but there's definitely going to be some emphasis on not stopping (Napier), but making him earn everything he gets, and trying to keep him where maybe his numbers might even be the same but he takes more shots to get there or wear him down a little bit by making sure he can't have free rein.''
Michigan State guard Keith Appling didn't separate the Connecticut guards the way fans have all season.
''The main thing is our guards are going to have to remain solid and not go for their head fakes or hesitation moves and stay out of foul trouble,'' he said.
Boatright and the Huskies know about Michigan State having beaten the Spartans 66-62 in last season's opener which was Ollie's first game as head coach.
''It's all about toughness. That's their identity,'' Boatright said. ''They're going to come out and try to punk you. They're big down low. They got some strong guys on the floor. The guards are big. So it's all about toughness, mentally and physically.''
Ollie feels his backcourt is ready.
''I just think those guys are playing hard. They're playing together,'' he said. ''They're connected.''