ARLINGTON, Texas -- Shabazz Napier has been the best player in a fascinating NCAA tournament, one that will conclude with UConn facing Kentucky in the national championship game at AT&T Stadium on Monday night. The 6-foot-1 senior guard has carried Connecticut to wins over Saint Joseph's, Villanova, Iowa State, Michigan State and top-seeded Florida.
The senior finished Saturday's 63-53 win over the Gators with 12 points, six assists, three rebounds and four steals. And that was his worst performance -- on paper -- of the tourney.
His teammates see him operate every day, and they're in awe of his efforts too. Here's their take on the plays, games, moments, character and attitude that have made Napier the star he's become for the Huskies.
Phillip Nolan, sophomore forward
"Whether it's in a big game or a small game, whenever he takes a contested 3-pointer, like off the dribble, I always think, like, man, he's definitely ready for the NBA. ... It was actually last year. I forgot who we were playing against, but he was in the corner, something happened, he, like, did a pivot and just, like, turned backwards and kind of spun and everybody thought he was going this way and he just turned back and shot a fadeaway 3 and he hit it. I'm like, 'Oh my god.'"
DeAndre Daniels, junior forward
"I've been seeing it for three years, so it's nothing really new to me. ... Just ever since we started the season, just how hard he was working and pushing everybody, just how determined he was and focused he was. Now it's just all starting to pay off."
Niels Giffey, senior guard/forward
"I think it might have even been the first tournament game. We were already down against Saint Joe's. People had them winning against us. We never believed we would lose against them. At that point, we were down. Everybody was a little rattled, first tournament game. And I guess a couple of people already had that vision, 'What's going to happen if we lose the first round?' and he's just sitting in the timeout super confident, really calm. Pretty much, [he] calms everybody down just with, just being him and being that leader he is, talking to everybody like 'We've got this. Trust me, we've got this.'"
Pat Lenehan, junior guard
On Napier's buzzer-beater against Florida on Dec. 2: "I'm not on the bench during the tournament because we don't have enough seats, but I was actually on the bench for that. I just remember, when [Daniels] tipped it back to him -- he got the ball at the foul line -- I was pretty much running onto the court already because I knew when it got into his hands he was going to make the shot just because he's that kind of player and that's the mode he wants to be in."
Lasan Kromah, senior guard/forward
"I think we were playing Villanova. After he hurt his shin or something, he came in and knocked down three 3-pointers back-to-back-to-back from long range, defender right in his face. He was real gutty."
Omar Calhoun, sophomore guard
"I'd just say his footwork. He gets his feet set quick, and he's got perfect ball control, can shoot the ball from anywhere. ... I don't see him necessarily being the fastest guy on the court, but I see him as being the smartest one. He knows how to change speeds, so when it comes to stopping and going or changing direction, he's quick to do that, which makes him deceptively quick."
Tor Watts, senior guard
"Let's say the Michigan State game, for instance. He got hurt or I think he got hit in his mouth and he was bleeding. And me and Omar [Calhoun] looked at each other, because we knew once he started bleeding, he was a little upset, he's about to start going off. ... As soon as we said that, he started being Shabazz and he could literally do whatever he wants on the court, and I think that's amazing because I haven't seen any other player like him. I haven't guarded any other player like him. And I think he's one of a kind. ... I mean, I try my best to body him [in practice], talk to him, try to get in his head. It's not going to work most of the time. Most of the time, he'll just come right at you."
Terrence Samuel, freshman guard
"At first, I didn't have confidence. But he's a leader. He talks to me during the game. All the time, he tells me I'm a beast. He just wants me to play with confidence."