STORRS, Conn. – Junior guard Shabazz Napier has been a true warrior during his Connecticut basketball career, playing through pain and some minor injuries. He’s proud of the fact he has never missed a game in three seasons.
But a contusion on his left shoulder has kept Napier out of practice the last two days. And only time will tell if Napier is healthy enough to play Saturday when UConn (12-4, 2-2 Big East) plays Pittsburgh (14-4, 2-3) at Petersen Events center (noon, ESPN2, UConn IMG Sports Radio Network).
“I really hope so,” Napier said Thursday when asked if thinks he can play Saturday. “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’ve got to fight through it to help my teammates out, I’m going to do whatever I’ve got to do.”
Napier was injured with 16:13 left in the first half Monday night after he was fouled by Louisville’s Peyton Siva. Napier fell to the floor and Louisville’s Wayne Blackshear landed on him. Napier said that pinched his rotator cuff. He said he experienced a great deal of pain Tuesday morning and had trouble moving his arm but that has improved with rest.
“He [Blackshear] sat on me for about 10 minutes,” Napier said with a smile. “I don’t know why none of my teammates pushed him off. That’s what it felt like. I’m glad it wasn’t [center Gorgui Dieng] or my arm probably would have been ripped off.”
Napier played 36 minutes in the 73-58 loss to No. 1 Louisville and scored 12 points. But after hitting 4 of 7 shots from the field and scoring 10 points in the first half, he missed all six of his field goal attempts in the second half. Napier said he shouldn’t have played in the second half.
“Just moving it any direction [could be a problem] but I don’t really know,” Napier said of practicing Friday or playing Saturday. UConn was going to practice Friday morning in Storrs, then travel to Pittsburgh. Now the Huskies will wait and practice in Pittsburgh Friday at 5 p.m., in an effort to give Napier more rest. “I haven’t touched a ball in forever. Hopefully I won’t have any pain.
“I’m kind of upset I hurt myself during the Louisville game. Watching the tape, I felt like I didn’t give much [in the second half]. I looked slow and sluggish out there. That was an awful performance. It seemed like I didn’t keep my composure.”
Napier is UConn’s leading scorer, averaging 17.1 points, and is second in rebounding at 4.4 a game. Napier also has 66 assists and 34 steals.
UConn coach Kevin Ollie said Napier didn’t have much swelling and an exam showed everything was structurally fine. With the rest Napier has had, Ollie thinks there is a good chance he can play Saturday against Pitt.
“If he’s not feeling well, or he’s not able to play to the level we think he needs to play at,” Ollie said, “then R.J. [Evans] will have to play a bigger role, Brendan [Allen] will have to be ready to come up. We’ll find a way, like we’ve been doing all season.”