Dan Bonner: ‘Shabazz Napier Is Good Enough To Carry UConn On A Hot Streak’
Given that Connecticut is a 7-seed and Kentucky is an 8-seed, you might think that the Wildcats – and not the Huskies – are the slightly more surprising Final Four team.
Well, you would be incorrect.
Connecticut is far more surprising.
“I don’t think there’s any question,” CBSSports.com college basketball writer Dan Bonner said on The John Feinstein Show. “This is a team that lost (to Louisville) by what, 33? They got murdered. It wasn’t that long ago.”
Indeed, Connecticut lost to Louisville, 81-48, on March 8. The Huskies also fell to the Cardinals, 76-64, on Jan. 18, and 71-61 on March 15.
“Louisville took them apart three times,” Bonner said. “If Montrezl Harrell could play against Connecticut every time, he would be the first pick in six consecutive NBA drafts.”
Despite its struggles against Rick Pitino, Connecticut has won four straight games – almost all nail-biters. The Huskies needed overtime to survive against St. Joe’s in the opening round and then dispatched No. 2 Villanova, 77-65, No. 3 Iowa State, 81-76, and, in the regional final, No. 4 Michigan State, 60-54.
“Connecticut is by far the bigger surprise than Kentucky is to me,” Bonner said. “Remember, even though they’re very criticized and overly analyzed, this was the team that was going to go 40-0. It’s not a surprise that Kentucky’s talented.”
Kentucky is headed to Dallas after knocking off Kansas State and three Final Four teams from a season ago: Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan.
Of course, with a roster full of future NBA players, this is not all that surprising.
Connecticut, meanwhile, rallied from a nine-point, second-half deficit against Michigan State to became the first 7-seed to reach the Final Four since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Senior Shabazz Napier led Connecticut offensively – 25 points, six rebounds and four assists – but he, along with Ryan Boatright, bottled up Keith Appling, Denzel Washington and Travis Trice, who combined for 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting.
“Napier and Boatright just took Michigan State’s guards out of the game,” Bonner said. “If your guards can’t get the ball to the spots where it needs to go, you can’t run your offense, and we saw that in that game.”
Michigan State advanced after beating No. 1 Virginia, 61-59, in the Sweet 16. Bonner, who played for the Cavaliers in the 1970s, was not surprised.
“I thought it was a great game,” he said. “I just think that the Virginia team did such a nice job all year long, (but) their failing – when they did fail – was that they just couldn’t make baskets when they needed to make baskets. Virginia had a great season. They’ve got nothing to regret. But you’re not going to win a game in the regional tournament when you can only score 59 points.”
Michigan State, to its credit, might’ve beaten Connecticut had the Huskies not shot 21-of-22 from the foul line – a 95.5 percent clip.
Napier alone was 9-of-9.
Bonner feels the senior has what it takes to win two more games for Connecticut, even as No. 1 Florida is riding a 30-game winning streak.
“I think so,” Bonner said. “He’s a really good player who seems to be on a hot streak – and to my mind, he is a good enough player that he can carry a team on that hot streak. Now, he’s going to need some help, but if you get in a tight game and he’s involved in the game, he’s going to make a play.”