Shabazz Napier “The speech that Coach [Calhoun] made at halftime before the second half that just pushed us to the limit.”April 5, 2011 – 7:00 am by Steven Cuce
It sure wasn’t the prettiest National Championship game played for the Men’s Division I NCAA title and it might have even been the ugliest game ever played on the sports biggest stage, but the UConn Huskies took home their third title in the school’s history. Jim Calhoun became the oldest coach at sixty-eight years of age to win a National Championship, only the fifth coach ever to win three or more titles in Men’s NCAA Division I history, as the Huskies epic March Madness tear saw the team roar through the Big East Tournament for their conference title before beating Bucknell, Cincinnati, San Diego State, Arizona, Kentucky and now Butler to win the whole thing.
The “Cinderella” Butler Bulldogs truly looked atrocious in this contest as they shot 12-for-64 shooting, which is good for a measly 18.8 percent. Butler couldn’t get anything going in the second half and were stifled in the paint being outscored 26-2. One of the key contributing members of this young Huskies team was freshmen guard Shabazz Napier, who played in 27 minutes, scoring 4 points and adding 4 rebounds to help out UConn’s effort coming off the bench. He started in the second half allowing Kemba Walker to play off the ball which also opened up more opportunities for Jeremy Lamb. Napier discussed the feeling of being a National Champion along with what Coach Calhoun said to his team to get them going on the second half surge that sealed the National Championship.
Shabazz Napier joined Into the Night with Tony Bruno on Fox Sports Radio to discuss how crazy the post-game scene was after the University of Connecticut Huskies won the 2011 National Championship, what did Coach Calhoun say to the team at halftime regarding the low scoring, was the defense in the paint the key to winning the 2011 National Championship, when did the Huskies realize they had what it took to become a National Championship contender, does he think Coach Calhoun will stick around next year or retire and does this National Championship victory validate all the hype surrounding the Big East Conference in the NCAA tournament.
How crazy is it there?
“It’s crazy man a lot of people are here. A lot of people who supported us and a lot of media right now.”
What did Coach Calhoun say to you guys at halftime regarding the low scoring, the defense played, and the team not scoring that well?
“He just told us defensively we was playing great, but offensively we wasn’t getting into our stuff. He really got at me because he feels like I’m a spark and I come off the bench now, I’m the spark plug. He just told me if we don’t get this going, if I don’t really push them defensively than we might lose this game. The best thing I could do at this point right now is go hard and sacrifice myself. I felt like that’s what I did. We just picked it up.”
Was the defense in the paint the key to winning the National Championship because Butler could not score at all in the paint area? Was the key that Butler was missing shots or you were playing great defense in the paint?
“The key was just try to disrupt them offensively. That was by pressing the ball at the full court, try to allow [Shelvin] Mack to not get the ball. We felt like if he [Shelvin Mack] had the ball in his hand and controlling the pace it’s going to be tough for us to guard because he’s a great shooter. I felt as though once they got the ball in the middle our guys, Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu, I felt like they played great defense. They disrupted a lot of shots and that left us to get easy rebounds and to press the break on them. I felt like we pushed everything on them and we just applied great defense.”
This has been an unbelievable run starting at the Big East Tournament. When did you guys realize that you were a National Championship Caliber contender?
“After we beat Kentucky. I felt as though we understood that we were one game away. We didn’t want to envision too far ahead. We felt as though we should worry about who we have at that point whether it be Bucknell, Cincinnati, and so fourth on. Once we got by Kentucky we were like we have Butler next, they’re a great team, and we just understood what we had. I felt as though the speech that Coach [Calhoun] made at halftime before the second half that just pushed us to the limit.”
I gotta ask you about your coach Jim Calhoun. He has three national championships now. He’s sixty-eight years old. The oldest coach to win a National Championship. Does he stick around or you think he’s going to leave?
“I’ve been hearing that for so long. I don’t really know, I mean it’s going to be tough for him to leave but if he decides to leave I guess it’s a great time for him to leave. He’s leaving on top, but like I said that’s not really my ballpark. I felt as though he’s been a great coach to me and if he decides to stay it’s great for us and great for the university, but we have a great coaching staff and Coach [George] Blaney, [Kevin] Ollie, and those guys. He’ll be missed, but we’ll be able to keep it up.”
One last thing does this National Championship victory validate the Big East Conference in your mind?
“A lot of people still won’t think so because we were at point where there was only 2 of us left in us and Marquette. I don’t think people understand how much we beat up on each other during the [Big East] Conference games. I feel as though we have the best conference in the country just because how much talent we have. You really couldn’t understand how much we beat up on each other and that puts a lot on your body. I felt as though the team that would survive in the tournament is the team that feels as though they could handle the pressure of playing against other conferences and handle the pressure of the body. I felt like we were the team that handled that pressure and we did it well.”
Listen to Shabazz Napier on Into the Night with Tony Bruno here (Interview starts at 27:08 in the podcast)