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Will UConn's Napier play Saturday? 'I really hope so'

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published January 18. 2013 4:00AM
Jessica Hill/ AP Photo
UConn's Shabazz Napier, the team's leading scorer with 17.1 points per game, hopes to play Saturday at Pittsburgh after injuring his left shoulder Monday in a loss to top-ranked Louisville.

Storrs - Junior Shabazz Napier has had trouble sleeping in recent nights.

Part of UConn's dynamic backcourt, Napier is still dealing with a painful left shoulder contusion suffered early in Monday's loss to No. 1 Louisville. He hasn't practiced since that game.

While Napier is expected to play Saturday at Pittsburgh, the starting guard will likely be somewhat limited.

"I really hope so," Napier said Thursday when asked if he'll be ready Saturday. "I don't think I've missed one game since I've been here. I don't really plan on missing any games. I've played through a whole bunch of injuries in my life, especially here.

"I'm blessed enough for it not to be my shooting arm. If I can fight through it to help my teammates out, I'm going to do whatever I can do. It's a struggle for me to move it up to the side and it just hurts."

Given their lack of depth, the Huskies need every contributing player, especially Napier, a fearless team leader and leading scorer at 17.1 points per game.

Ollie is optimistic that Napier will play Saturday. He moved practice from early this morning in Storrs to late this afternoon in Pittsburgh to give Napier more time to heal.

"I think his shoulder came out of place a little bit, but he'll be ready to play," Ollie said. "Hopefully, he'll practice (today) and have a good game on Saturday, but we wanted to rest it just in case. He took a hard fall in the first half.

"We wanted to make sure everything structurally was fine, which we got that."

Napier is bothered almost as much about his erratic play against Louisville as by his injury. He had 10 points in the first eight minutes before tailing off significantly, scoring just two points the rest of the way.

On a drive to the basket about four minutes into the game, Peyton Siva fouled Napier, who then had Louisville's Wayne Blackshear land on top of him.

"I landed in an awkward position," Napier said. "I don't know who was it, the person just landed on my shoulder and my back. After the game, it was hurting a lot, but now it's cooled down and I've been moving much better than I did after the game. (Team trainer) James (Doran) is doing a terrific job."

Napier refused to blame his injury for what he described as his sluggish play against Louisville. He became even more upset after watching the game tape. Given his injury, he said he should have sat out the second half.

"I just didn't look like the way I should be playing," Napier said. "That was an awful performance. I just want to work harder for my teammates and for the fan base. They expected more and they should have gotten more, not only from me but the team.

"Hopefully, I'll be able to play. And, hopefully, I'll do much better than I did last game."

With Napier watching from the sidelines at Thursday's practice, junior Niels Giffey played with the first team. Reserve guard R.J. Evans also will likely play a more prominent role on Saturday.

"Niels is always valuable," Ollie said. "I don't care if Shabazz is playing full strength. We've got a motto around here: Next man up. If he's not feeling well, not able to play at the level that we think he needs to play at, R.J. has got to play a bigger role. Brendan (Allen) has got to be ready to come off (the bench)."

g.keefe@theday.com

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