ARLINGTON — Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier has seen this movie before.The confetti and adulation of a national title, led by a senior guard doing everything for his team to win.That was three years ago when he was a freshman apprentice to the star power of Kemba Walker.Asked before Monday’s championship game against Kentucky what was the biggest difference between that team and this team, Napier said two words: Kemba Walker.History repeated itself Monday night at AT&T Stadium, as Napier, now a senior, led UConn to the national title.Napier led the Huskies with 22 points, grabbed a team-high tying six rebounds and added four assists in UConn’s 60-54 victory over Kentucky.Napier was named the Final Four’s most outstanding player and got to savor another confetti shower while ending his college career with a bookend national title.“We did what we had to do,” Napier said. “We didn’t listen to any doubters. We came out here to play. But it’s not the Shabazz show. It’s the UConn Huskies and we proved it.”Napier scored 15 points in the first half, including three 3-pointers as UConn led by as much as 15 points.As it had the entire tournament, Kentucky battled back and cut the lead to 35-31 at halftime. That included a tense moment for Napier and fellow guard Ryan Boatright. Napier shoved his teammate for being out of position during the dry spell late in the first half.Although he wasn’t as sharp in the second half, Napier was there to answer Kentucky every time it got close.The Wildcats narrowed the score to 37-36 with 15 minutes, 29 seconds left.But Napier hit two free throws to give UConn some breathing room, as it built the lead back up to nine.Kentucky came back again and got as close as 48-47 at the 8:13 mark.That’s when Napier showed up as the Kemba Walker-like difference maker again, hitting his only 3-pointer of the second half. Napier set up DeAndre Daniels for a layup, making the score 58-52.It was nothing but smiles and confetti after that. And certainly no hard feeling from Boatright.“Hell of a player. Great player. Pro,” Boatright said. “Great teammate. Great leader. He’s my brother, man. I love him.”After the game Napier called out the NCAA because the Huskies were banned from last year’s tournament for poor academic performance. He said it was a pre-planned speech.“Honestly, I want to get everyone’s attention,” Napier yelled to the crowd from the podium after receiving the MOP award. “You are looking at the hungry Huskies. This is what happens when you keep us out.”It was the conclusion of great journey for Napier as well as an outstanding season.
Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760 Twitter: @clarencehilljr