NCAA BK

Loyola (Md.)-UConn Preview

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Paced by Shabazz Napier and with an ability to pull out close games, Connecticut is off to its best start since its most recent national championship season of 2010-11.

Coming off an exciting run to the 2K Sports Classic title, the undefeated No. 13 Huskies look to continue their non-conference home dominance Tuesday night against Loyola, Maryland in Hartford.

A night after scoring 20 points in a 72-70 win over Boston College in the tournament semifinals at Madison Square Garden, Napier went 10 of 14 from the field, made four 3-pointers and finished with 27 points in a 59-58 victory over Indiana in the championship game Friday.

Averaging a team-leading 16.8 points and shooting 50.8 percent, Napier earned tournament MVP honors. He's helped the Huskies (6-0) to their best start since the senior guard was a key reserve three years ago on the school's third national championship team.

That squad won its first 10 games.

"He is an incredible high-level guard," Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said of the 6-foot-1 Napier. "That is a 12-, 13-year pro. I don't care about size."

Despite matching a career high with seven turnovers Friday, Napier was the only Huskie to score in double figures and his driving basket with 1:34 left turned out to be the final points of the game.

"Sometimes my teammates let me know,'' he said of when to take over a game. "Not verbally but how they sometimes carry themselves. I know I have to try and score and be more aggressive. ... I just go off the flow."

A collective defensive effort has also played a big role in the Huskies' strong start, as opponents are averaging 63.7 points and shooting 36.0 percent against them this season. Guard Ryan Boatright made two free throws with 7.9 seconds left and blocked a 3-point attempt at the buzzer against Boston College.

The Hoosiers were held to 40.8 percent from the field, including 3 of 12 from 3-point range, and committed 19 turnovers. They still had a chance to win but turned the ball over twice and missed a jumper after Napier's final bucket.

"It came down to execution, to making stops,'' UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "We trust each other. We hang our hat on defense. We got stops and that's what we did. That's never going to change. Never."

That likely doesn't bode well for Loyola, which will try to end the Huskies' 51-game non-conference home winning streak, which has come at Hartford as well as Gampel Pavilion on the Storrs campus.

In the first season under coach G.G. Smith, son of Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith, the Greyhounds are trying to start 5-0 for the first time since 2005-06. Guard Dylon Cormier scored 34 points to help Loyola overcome a 17-point deficit and win 89-83 in overtime at UMBC on Wednesday.

Cormier ranks among the national leaders with 29.8 points per game. The 6-foot-3 senior also averages a team-leading 8.0 rebounds.

Tagged: Connecticut, Shabazz Napier

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