By Aaron Mansfield
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — BUFFALO — In March, oftentimes college basketball games come down to which team has the best player. On Saturday night at the First Niagara Center, there was no question who that player was: UConn senior guard Shabazz Napier.
Villanova coach Jay Wright said Napier was “just awesome.” Napier (25 points on 9 of 13 shooting, five rebounds, three assists) put on a show in willing his underdog, seventh-seeded Huskies to a 77-65 win over No. 2 Villanova.
“Shabazz took over the game,” said UConn forward DeAndre Daniels (11 points, five rebounds). “I’m not surprised. I see it every day, in practice, in games. He’s a man on a mission and he wants to win a national championship.”
Five Huskies scored in double figures, with guard-forward Lasan Kromah (12 points), guard Ryan Boatright (11) and guard Terrence Samuel (11) joining Napier and Daniels.
Napier made his impact in merely 25 minutes, as he came out of the game twice — once with an ankle injury and later with a shin injury. He said in his post-game press conference that after getting kicked in the shin, he was in “excruciating” pain.
Boatright said his team didn’t feel any added pressure with Napier out of the game.
“In order to win a national championship, everybody’s gonna have to step up,” Boatright said.
UConn led 25-24 at the half despite trailing 19-9 at one point. The Huskies capitalized on Villanova’s sloppy play, scoring 10 points off eight turnovers while the Wildcats did not score at all off turnovers. UConn also had nine bench points to Villanova’s zero.
Villanova finished the game with 16 turnovers. The Wildcats lived and died by the 3-pointer, shooting 11 for 31 (36 percent) from beyond the arc.
For the game, UConn shot 23 for 52 (44 percent) overall and 9 for 20 (45 percent) from deep.
“I just want to keep riding ‘Uncle Mo’ – that's momentum,” said UConn coach Kevin Ollie.
Guard Ryan Arcidiacono led Villanova with 18 points. Guard James Bell added 14, guard Darrun Hilliard had 13 and forward Jayvaughn Pinkston had 11.
“Shabazz is a great player,” Hilliard said. “He made a lot of big plays … we just couldn’t come through. We were there and we just couldn’t come through.”
UConn advances to play the winner of 6-North Carolina and 3-Iowa State, which are playing Sunday at 5:15 p.m.
Warde Manuel, the UConn athletic director who held the same position at the University at Buffalo, was in attendance Saturday.Follow contributor @AaroncMansfield on Twitter for local sports coverage.