Shabazz Napier can now officially be marked down on the long list of “Philadelphia Sports Villains”.
In a span of three days, Napier and the UCONN Huskies have beaten the only two Philadelphia teams in this year’s NCAA tournament. Not to mention crushing the Temple Owls twice during the regular season.
In Thursday’s 89-81 OT win over St. Joseph’s, the American Conference player of the year recorded 24 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals. He scored or assisted 41 of their 89 points (46%). A similar outcome came against the Villanova Wildcats saturday night.
In a completely reversed chain of events, the winner of Saturday night’s Villanova vs. UCONN game would advance to play at Madison Square Garden in the Sweet 16. Before the 2013-2014 season was underway, these two teams battled it out almost every year at MSG for the Big East conference tournament and a chance to win a one-way ticket to the big dance. With the Huskies now a part of the newly formed American Athletic Conference, the rivalry continued in New York, but this time in Buffalo for the Round of 32.
The Wildcats came out like one of the nation’s top teams in the first half. At the 10-minute mark, #2 seed Villanova held a 19-9 lead. But right on cue, Napier started to show up right before halftime. The 6-foot-1 senior guard helped give the Huskies a 25-24 lead going into the second half, and that was when the real jets turned on.
Napier went full turbo, scoring 21 points in the last 17 minutes of play guiding the #7 seeded Huskies to a 77-65 upset win.
The projected late first-round NBA draft pick led the team, scoring 25 points, grabbing 5 rebounds, dishing 3 assists, and notching 2 steals; combining for 49 points before the Huskies have even reached the Sweet 16.
For the Wildcats, their early exit has crushed the high hopes of fans everywhere. But, there is no reason for the team to put their heads down. 2013-2014 was a remarkable year for Villanova basketball and the best part was that no one saw it coming. They finished their record-breaking season with a 29-5 record overall and a 16-2 record in the Big East, breaking a school record for most wins in conference play. The Wildcats also snagged the regular season conference championship for the first time in over 30 years.
Coach Jay Wright will be without the presence of senior James Bell next season. Bell stepped up his role as a leader being the only starting senior on the team. A once very inconsistent shooter, the future second-round pick shot 43% percent from the field and 37% from 3-point range, the highest numbers of his collegiate career.
While Bell is moving on, 4 of the 5 starters are returning. Point guard Ryan Arcidiacono (3.9 apg), guard Darrun Hilliard (14.5 ppg), forward JayVaughn Pinkston (12.0 ppg) and center Daniel Ochefu (8.5 rpg).
Arcidiacono will be back running the point for the 3rd straight season. The sophomore has hit critical shots and maintains a strong sense of confidence that can be seen on the court. This confidence has also rubbed off on his teammates who have gained a strong sense of trust in him.
There is no doubt the Wildcats will be making a splash next season, right from the get go.