STORRS – Shabazz Napier made it through practice on Saturday, and it looks like he’ll be good to go for the Huskies against Rutgers on Sunday. … But how effective he will be is the issue.
“Of course, we’re going to be cautious,” coach Kevin Ollie said. “But Shabazz has got to understand, if it’s pain he can play through, he’s got to fight through it. If you’re on the court, I don’t want any excuses. If you’re out there, we want you to go 100 percent, and if you can’t we’ll take you out.”
Napier played 34 minutes at Pittsburgh with the contusion in his left shoulder, and was not himself. He felt he had trouble dribbling with his left hand, though, in fact, he did a lot of that. There were, however, some of his moves to the basket he left out of his game, and he became a perimeter player.
“With the shoulder, everything you do, you feel it,” said R.J. Evans, who played with a shoulder issue earlier this year. “But Shabazz has looked real good in practice. He’s been getting hit and not making any faces, so it looks like he’s getting close to 100 percent.”
Napier, who sustained the contusion in the first half against Louisville on Jan. 14, was told the pain would go away in about two weeks. However, that probably would mean two weeks of rest. This past week, he did have Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off, practiced without contact on Wednesday, and then had Thursday off. On Saturday, he was kept out of the high-contact box-out drills. Napier has been doing a lot of two-handed dribbling this week.
Doran will make an evaluation before the game at XL at 2 p.m. Sunday,
“When I first wake up in the morning is when it hurts the worst,” Napier said, “once I get it loosened up, it feels fine. [Trainer] James [Doran] is working on ways to keep it warm. … It’s frustrating. Against Louisville, I wasn’t happy with my performance, and wanted to work on it, and the next morning I got up and I was in a lot of pain. Then against Pittsburgh, I wasn’t happy again with the way I played.”
Having Napier out there will be as important as ever on Sunday, since Rutgers is a guard-heavy team, with Eli Carter, Myles Mack and Jerome Seagears starting.
“They’ve got good guards,” Napier said. “Mack can shoot, and Carter can shoot and Seagears can really penetrate. You have to be careful not to help too much [on defense], you’ll leave somebody open for a three.”
That’s what happened down the stretch at Pitt, of course.
Here is more on the UConn-Rutgers match-up.
UConn’s 67-60 loss at Rutgers last Jan. 7 was one of the low points of the season. The Huskies responded with a win over West Virginia two night later.
The Huskies worked on the three-box out, or, as they call it, the “chamber drill” during the last half hour of practice. Ollie continues to emphasize rebounding. “It’s all heart and desire,” he said. “You’ve got to have the will to go get the ball.”