UConn guards Napier, Boatright could disrupt Kentucky
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ARLINGTON, Texas - If it's about pure talent, Kentucky's five-star freshmen have all they need to complete a remarkable run to the NCAA championship against Connecticut Monday night at AT&T Stadium. But if it comes down to guard play, as these games often do, it's a fair fight between the Huskies' combination of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright and the Wildcats' Harrison twins, Aaron and Andrew.
The 6-1 Napier and 6-foot Boatright are on the small side against the 6-6 Harrisons, but just as they took Florida out of its offense in the semifinals with pressure on the backcourt, the guards from UConn (31-8) know how to use their quickness to disrupt Kentucky (29-10).
"I ain't going to reveal my secrets,'' Boatright said Sunday, "but I'm just going to try to do my best to turn them up and down the floor, try to make them uncomfortable. Just get up in them and be physical with them. They're good point guards, but they're big, so their dribble is a little high.''
Andrew Harrison, who handles most of the point guard duties for the Wildcats, has averaged four turnovers per game in the tournament, including six each in the first two games against Kansas State and Wichita State. Kentucky figures to generate more possessions with its offensive rebounding, but it will lose that advantage if it doesn't handle the ball cleanly.
Andrew Harrison compared the Huskies' pressure to what the Wildcats faced in two wins over Louisville this season.
"It's going to be tough with those two guys,'' he said of Napier and Boatright. "They're some of the quickest guards we've [faced] all year. You have to stay low and be prepared for pressure. It makes you focus every time you go up and down the court.''
Andrew Harrison said UConn's frontcourt is underrated, and forward DeAndre Daniels is a threat. But the Huskies can't match the size and depth of Kentucky's 6-9 Julius Randle and 7-foot Dakari Johnson plus 6-9 Marcus Lee and 6-8 Alex Poythress coming off the bench. They make up for the loss of 7-foot Willie Cauley-Stein, who has been ruled out with an ankle injury.
Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie might opt to attack the Wildcats' size with a small lineup by putting 6-4 freshman guard Terrence Samuel on the floor with Napier and Boatright.
"I feel like it's to our advantage,'' Samuel said. "We're all great defenders. We can get steals and push it in transition. I feel we'll match up great with them when we do that.
"I know definitely Ryan Boatright is going to play them 90 feet and create turnovers because he's a little pest. Shabazz can do the same.''
Florida coach Billy Donovan said his guards were outplayed by UConn, and Samuel said it's possible to rattle Kentucky the same way.
"Yeah, I think it was a big part of the game plan ,'' Samuel said. "We were well prepared, and we knew what we had to do to stop them.''
If it comes to a last shot, no team has been tougher than Kentucky at the end. The Wildcats have won five tournament games by seven points or fewer, and Aaron Harrison has hit either a winning or go-ahead three-pointer in the final seconds of the past three games.
Andrew said his brother was smiling when he hit the winner against Wisconsin Saturday night.
"I was kind of smiling because I was calling for it,'' Aaron said. "I was wondering if he was going to give it to me. I had confidence to take the shot, and I knew my teammates had confidence in me to take the shot. After making the shot and seeing the joy on their faces, it was a great feeling.''