About five weeks ago, following back-to-back losses at Seton Hall and Rutgers, UConn guard Shabazz Napier was candid. He knew his team needed leadership. He was doing his best to provide it. But he couldn't escape the feeling that while his teammates sometimes gave him a chance to lead, "sometimes they don't." The picture was one of frustration and disunion and Napier's desperate attempts to correct.
It is now Feb. 20, just 21 days from Selection Sunday, and little has changed. UConn is still losing in rather dispiriting fashion. After Saturday's home loss to Marquette, the Huskies have dropped seven of their last nine. Since Jan. 3, their first game in calendar year 2012, the Huskies are 4-9. They've been outworked, blown out, even, at times, embarrassed; despite all that talent, they've looked nothing like the potential national title contender they were once slated to be.
Napier, always a candid interview, was no different after Saturday's loss. In fact, he was more frank than ever:
"Sometimes we look like we're coming over the hump and then we face a good team and we all let up," said Napier, a co-captain. "One thing I hate to say is, I've got to question a lot of these guys' hearts."
Napier was particularly upset with the way the Big East game ended, as a defenseless UConn allowed easy baskets. The Huskies (16-10, 6-8) went from trailing by eight to losing by 15 in the final four minutes.
"It just looked out there like we gave up at the end," Napier said. "It's tough to say it because we're a great team. For those words to come out of mouth is just horrendous. … When push comes to shove, it's who's out there and who's going to give it back. ... We get punched and some guys throw pillows back. You're not supposed to throw pillows back. You're supposed to go get a three-pointer and lock up on defense and do the necessary things to get a win and right now we're not doing that."
Strong as Napier's comments are, he's not wrong. It's impossible to watch UConn's immensely talented players -- Andre Drummond (and less often, but often enough, Jeremy Lamb) in particular -- and not think too many of this team's key players just don't really care. Maybe they do. But their body language and performances seem to indicate otherwise. If I was a Huskies fan, I'd take solace in knowing that at least Napier (as well as forward Alex Oriakhi) isn't prepared to stand by quietly as a once-promising season turns into a lifeless, jumbled mess.
The question, then, is whether Napier's comments will matter. They should. It should be an incredible insult to have your heart questioned publicly by your teammates. It should make you want to prove otherwise. It should make you angry and eager to prove otherwise. Whether it will at this point in the season, however, seems doubtful. The Huskies have had months to examine, diagnose and solve their problems; said problems are nothing new. They haven't figured them out yet, and now it's Feb. 20. Is it already too late?