During the national anthem, Connecticut's players stand side by side, most of them wrapping their arms around each other's shoulders. Shabazz Napier, generously listed at 6-1, puts his arms around his teammates' waists.
Nevertheless, the senior guard came up big Friday night at Madison Square Garden, scoring 27 points in a 59-58 win over Indiana in the final of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project.
Napier scored 10 of the final 16 points for No. 18 UConn (6-0), including the final bucket, a driving layup with 1:35 left.
On Connecticut's last possession, Napier was whistled for pushing off Indiana's Yogi Ferrell (19 points), giving the ball to Indiana with 22 seconds left. Ferrell dribbled right and tried a contested fadeaway near the three-point line. It hit the rim twice, and in the ensuing scramble, UConn's Niels Giffey slid out of bounds with the ball, giving Indiana one last chance with seven-tenths of a second left. But Indiana could not get off a shot before the buzzer.
After scoring 20 against Boston College on Thursday, Napier was named the tournament's MVP. His creative dribbling, which often led to drives to the hoop or step-back jumpers, was reminiscent of former Huskies guard Kemba Walker. Asked if he models his game after his former teammate, Napier said: "Of course. That's my big brother. I try to emulate everything that he does but try to put my own spin on it."
Indiana star freshman Noah Venleh drew two early fouls on moving screens, picked up his third a minute into the second half and played only 10 minutes.
"That was huge to get him in foul trouble," Huskies coach Kevin Ollie said. "We were really trying to go at him once he got two, three fouls."
Connecticut took the biggest lead of the game 33-26 a few minutes into the second half. Indiana answered with an 8-0 run and it was tight for the rest of the game.
"We feel like we played one of the best teams in the country," Indiana coach Tom Crean said.