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Rapid reaction on UConn's win

Updated 12:53 am, Sunday, March 23, 2014
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Rapid reaction on UConn's NCAA win

n When Kevin Ollie burned his first timeout, incensed with Niels Giffey and the general beginning of Saturday's NCAA third round tournament game, Villanova had already scored 13 points. It had taken the Wildcats just over four minutes and only five possessions.

They were on pace for triple digits. UConn was on pace to get blasted, physically dominated inside and, for the final 12:09, without Shabazz Napier.

What followed was season-saving stuff.

For the first four minutes, Ollie opted for a lineup that had only one breakdown offensive threat: Ryan Boatright was joined by Terrence Samuel, Lasan Kromah, Niels Giffey and Amida Brimah.

DeAndre Daniels replaced Brimah for the final eight minutes, and UConn's defense locked down to mount an improbable comeback without Napier.

Villanova's final 16 possessions of the half: five points, five turnovers, one field goal.

Remarkable. A gutty effort from the most unlikely of lineups. I'll go out on a limb and say Ollie has not used those five together at any point this season.

In the end, that mix-and-match group came through for the 12 most important minutes of UConn's season.

• The legend of Shabazz Napier grows. A lower leg injury -- it appeared to his right shin --sent the AAC Player of the Year to the bench with four minutes left. After flexing his foot on the bench, Napier re-entered, noticeably limping, and proceeded to blow by the Villanova defense and flip a layup high off the glass, giving his Huskies a 60-51 advantage with 2:17 on the clock.

Before the injury, he was sidelined with foul trouble. And when he returned for the beginning of the second half, Villanova had zero answer.

On back-to-back second half possessions, Napier swished two NBA-range 3-pointers, the second of which with Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono draped all over him. That shot gave UConn a 41-30 advantage, a figure that seemed next-to-impossible at the game's outset.

Another dagger, with the shot clock dwindling and Villanova's James Bell contesting, stretched UConn's lead to 54-45.

In his three previous games against Villanova, Napier averaged just 3.3 points on 17.7 percent shooting from the field and 2-of-10 accuracy from deep. Of course, one of those 3balls was the 40-foot buzzer beater against Villanova in 2012, the first of a dozen or so clutch moments.

What's his legacy at UConn?

He absolutely has to be considered the second best point guard in program history behind Kemba Walker. This used to be a debate two months ago: Napier, Khalid El-Amin, A.J. Price or Marcus Williams?

It's no longer worth the discussion.

• Hey, maybe the AAC doesn't stink. When Cincinnati got bounced by No. 12 seed Harvard in the conference's first game, things weren't looking so hot. But UConn and Louisville both advanced to the Sweet 16, and Memphis has a chance to knock off top-seeded Virginia Sunday. Only the B1G has more teams currently in the Sweet 16 (Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin all advanced Saturday).

The Shabazz Napier lovefest will commence all week. Rightfully so. But another senior, Niels Giffey, was huge for UConn. Giffey pulled down 10 boards, and he did it battling a very large `Nova frontline: JayVaughn Pinkston goes 6-foot-7, 260 pounds; Giffey is 6-foot-7, 215.

-- KEVIN DUFFY