Three Hits: MVP Napier completes UConn’s title quest
It would be extremely easy to compare Napier (22 points, six rebounds, three assists) to Kemba Walker from the 2011 championship season, given the UConn ties and point-guard association.
But for an older writer like myself, Monday’s title clash had an eerie feel like 1988, when Manning’s Kansas Jayhawks (a 6-seed) shocked the world by beating a superior Oklahoma team in the NCAA final — while matching the Sooners’ style of play for the first 30 minutes (50-all at halftime) … and then holding on for dear life in the final moments.
On that night at Kemper Arena, the senior Manning tallied 31 points and 18 rebounds — tangibly better numbers than Napier posted against Kentucky. That aside, the Huskies point guard had a similarly stellar knack for getting his sometimes-sloppy teammates over the hump.
After all, UConn shot only 42 percent from the field; and of the club’s three double-digit scorers (Napier, Ryan Boatright, Niels Giffey), it’s worth noting that Giffey, a long-distance specialist, didn’t hit either of his two three-pointers until the under-12 mark of the second half.
Bottom line: If Kentucky and Connecticut played 100 times, the Wildcats probably would win 84 to 88 times — that’s how much better they seemed, pound for pound, on Monday night.
That kind of luck is necessary when bringing home a championship, Connecticut’s fourth title in 15 years (1999, 2004, 2011, 2014).
It’s hard to win a title fight when shooting 39 percent from the field, 31 percent from beyond the arc and 54.2 percent from the charity stripe (13 of 24).
These are the core numbers that likely will haunt the Wildcats throughout the offseason — no matter which players return to campus next year.
And in a way, it’s unfortunate — and somewhat ironic — that Kentucky didn’t pull out the victory. Of the club’s last five games (Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan, Wisconsin, Connecticut), this might have been the Wildcats’ most complete effort on the defensive end.
For example, all three of Huskies forward Phillip Nolan’s field-goal attempts came from point-blank range … and the Wildcats blocked each chance; and no Huskies big man (Nolan, Amida Brimah) scored a single point.
Plus, can anyone remember any UConn playmaker not named Napier (voted the Most Outstanding Player) getting off a clean shot inside the arc during that 24-minute span after the Huskies grabbed a 28-15 lead in the first half?
Two of the most reputable mock-draft sites, NBADraft.net and Draft Express, have the following Wildcats picks in their latest drafts:
(Teague, who is averaging just 2.5 points per game and 9.9 minutes this season, squeaked in to Round 1, going to the Bulls at 29.)
Upon reflection, Teague and Lamb might have been better served staying in Lexington for at least another season, demonstrating their capacity for carrying a college team — instead of simply handling a secondary role on a championship club.
They’d also be ignoring how scouts and general managers would have little trouble dissecting their flaws for the next level.