HARTFORD — Individual goals are not Shabazz Napier's thing, something he reminds interviewers again and again.
But there are individual achievements that are emblematic of team play, unselfish play, and those are the ones that do interest the senior captain of the UConn men's basketball team.
"I'm the only one who's got two," Napier said, when he was handed a list of triple-doubles in Huskies history. "… Wow."
Napier scored 14 points, had 11 rebounds and 10 assists in UConn's often-sluggish 80-62 victory over Yale before 8,848 at the XL Center Monday afternoon, and he had only one turnover and one personal foul in 37 minutes on the floor.
"Before the game I was telling coach [Kevin Freeman] how I want to be an all-around player," Napier said. "I want to help the team in rebounding because if we rebound well, we're going to win."
At this point Napier, 6-foot-1, seems to be able to do anything he wants to do. Once he hit a jumper to reach 11 points with 3:46 remaining, he said, he knew he was close.
"I asked K-Free what I needed, and he said 'one and one,'" Napier said. "I said, 'I've got to get it.'"
He pulled in the rebound – he led his team in rebounding for the second game in a row. Then he needed an assist. On a fast break, he lobbed it up ahead to freshman Terrence Samuel who put it in, and Napier was credited with assist No. 10 with 1:44 to go. Kemba Walker, Hasheem Thabeet, Marcus Williams, Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Caron Butler, Doron Sheffer and Donyell Marshall had the other triple-doubles in UConn history. Napier did it two years ago against Coppin State.
"To get 11 rebounds, to get the second triple double of the 10 we've had in UConn history, that's just phenomenal," coach Kevin Ollie said. "He's doing a great job leading this team. He has a great basketball IQ, a great understanding of what I want, of what the other players want. I just keep telling him to give his gift away — perfect it, and give it away. He's in a good place right now.
"… And if Shabazz wasn't rebounding, I don't know what would've happened."
Omar Calhoun led the 19th-ranked Huskies (2-0) with 18 points, Niels Giffey scored 15 — all in the first half — and Ryan Boatright scored 14, all in the second half. The Huskies shot 56.5 percent from the floor, hitting 11 of 17 three-point attempts, and limited Yale to 31.7 percent, 20-for-63.
"When you miss a lot of shots you get a lot of rebounds," Yale coach James Jones said. "We did a good job of chasing the ball. But we weren't patient enough to get the kind of shots we need to get."
Napier held things together on a day when Ollie was unhappy with much that he saw. UConn never trailed, but started off slow, was tied 9-9 midway through the first half, before Niels Giffey came off the bench and hit five three-pointers in a row, four on consecutive trips down the floor as the Huskies took control of the game with a 15-3 run. On one play, Napier's behind-the-back pass set Giffey up for a wide-open three.
"Shabazz always puts us in good spots to score," said Giffey, who is 8-for-8 on three-point shots in two games. "He's got a nose for that."
UConn led 39-24 at the half, and rebounds were even at 15. In the second half, Yale out-rebounded UConn 28 to 16, and at one point trimmed a 21-point lead to 11. Justin Sears had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Yale, and Javier Duren scored 15.
"That's not Connecticut basketball, getting out-rebounded like that," Ollie said. "In the second half, they took it to us on the rebounding and that's what I'm dejected about. Our rebounding effort is pride, we didn't have the pride to put on the jersey today. It just can't happen if you want to be a great team. I think this team can be great, but with that effort, with what's coming down the pike, we can't have it."
The Huskies were plus-three in rebounding against Maryland last Friday night, in their season-opening win. Now, Ollie said, it's "back to the drawing board," so players can expect a couple of days of tough rebounding drills before the game against Detroit on Thursday night at Gampel Pavilion.
"We can have a good rebounding game like we had against Maryland," Giffey said, "but we've got to make it a habit."
Though the rebounding number irritated the coach, UConn's big men did make their presence felt in other ways. UConn had 13 blocks — seven in 24 minutes by freshman Amida Brimah, who continues to excite. "He's got impeccable timing," Ollie said. "We need that enforcer down there."
DeAndre Daniels, one of UConn's top players coming into the season, continued an early season slump. He did not score, missing all five shots from the floor, and had only one rebound in 18 minutes. Giffey's second half minutes and production were cut down by foul trouble and Yale adjustments, but Calhoun made three of five three-pointers and Boatright made both of his long-range attempts. Boatright's three opened UConn's biggest lead, 57-36, with 10:24 to play.
"It's what we do in practice," Calhoun said, "we move the ball side to side, and we want to get the best shot on every possession. I thought we did a good job of that today."
Said Napier, "Our depth is so crazy, I don't need to score. I told the team, 'I know you guys, we don't need someone to score 20-plus every game.' It's going to be all around scoring, and that's how it should be."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun