The shadow of Kemba Walker continues to follow Shabazz Napier at Connecticut.
The Huskies senior guard has been primed to step into Walker’s shoes since his sophomore season, a year after Walker led UConn to the national title.
Like Walker, Napier is a guard who can carry the Huskies night in and night out. He can create his own shot to an acrobatic degree, at the end of the shot clock or at the buzzer. And Napier is indispensable when he’s not taking shots, leading his team in rebounds and assists.
With a 60-54 win over Michigan State to lead UConn to the Final Four, Napier will continue to be mentioned along with Walker, who led UConn to the 2011 national championship.
Walker, though, was willing to put Napier in a class on his own.
Napier’s run might need to finish with a national championship for it to stand side by side with Walker's in the hearts of UConn fans, but the younger guard may have had a tougher road to the Final Four.
True, Walker’s hot streak started in the Big East Tournament when the Huskies won five games in five days for the automatic bid. Napier’s team lost by 10 to Louisville in the American Athletic Conference final, but the 2014 Huskies had similar difficulties through the regular season.
UConn started AAC play with back-to-back losses to Houston and SMU on the road and lost all three meetings with Louisville. In other words, UConn didn’t look much like a team capable of a deep NCAA Tournament run.
Unless Napier started to look more like Walker.
UConn started in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 7 seed — the 2011 Huskies were a No. 3 — and defeated the Big East regular season champion (Villanova) and the Big 12 and Big Ten Tournament champions (Iowa State and Michigan State) on the way to the national semifinal.
Napier has been the focal point, averaging 23.3 points per game, but how does his run stack up with Walker game-by-game, here’s a look:
Kemba Walker, 2011
Shabazz Napier, 2014
No. 14 Bucknell
No. 10 Saint Joseph’s
No. 6 Cincinnati
No. 1 Villanova
No. 2 San Diego State
No. 3 Iowa State
No. 5 Arizona
No. 4 Michigan State
No. 4 Kentucky
No. 1 Florida
No. 8 Butler