NEW YORK — For Iowa State’s ultra-smooth freshman guard Monte Morris, playing winning basketball hinges on a simple, yet powerful equation: Bright lights equal a broad smile.
Same goes for facing a big-name performer on the other side — one such as Connecticut NABC first-team all-American Shabazz Napier.
“Most definitely,” said Morris, who likely will draw at least part-time guard duty on the seventh-seeded Huskies’ star in Friday’s NCAA tournament East regional semifinal at New York’s Madison Square Garden. “Getting the chance to see what he has and what I can pick up from his game after the game, watching it, and playing against it — going up against a senior as a freshman on that big stage, there’s nothing else to look forward to but that.”
As usual, the third-seeded Cyclones will employ an all-hands-on-deck approach against an opponent’s star player. That means ISU’s 6-foot-4 mismatch-producing guard DeAndre Kane as well as hot-shooting sixth man Naz Long likely will match up with Napier at times — as well as anyone else who can bother one of the nation’s hottest, yet most consistent, players.
Napier scored 25 points on 9 of 13 shooting in UConn’s 77-65 round of 32 win over second-seeded Villanova. The 6-1 senior did that despite lengthy bench stays in the first half (foul trouble) and the second (in-game bruised shin).
“He’s as good as there is in the game in the clutch,” said ISU Coach Fred Hoiberg, whose team (28-7) is riding a six-game win streak over tournament teams. “When a guy can step up and take over a game at any point in time, it’s a tough guy to prepare for. You can do all you want, talk about him, but those guys that just know how to finish games are tough. You’ve got to make it hard on him.”
Easier said than done against the American Athletic Conference’s player of the year.
“He’s a great player,” said Long, who’s scored 12 or more points in four of the past six games. “He’s showed the world that. ... But I feel like we definitely have some people that are able to stay in front of him, contain him. He’s going to take his shots, he’s going to make his shots. He’s kind of got a green light — he’s able to pull from a lot of different places.”
He’s not alone, either. The Huskies (28-8) feature five players with at least 21 3-pointers and they all shoot 36 percent or better from long distance.
Napier is 73 of 188 (38.8 percent). Niels Giffey is a staggering 55 of 106, or 51.9 percent.
The Cyclones, meanwhile, have shot 44.4 percent or better from beyond the arc in the past five games. Long is 12 of 22 in that span. Morris has drilled 4 of 5 3-pointers in tournament wins over North Carolina Central and North Carolina.
“Just trying not to go home,” Morris said.
Friday, that location-based logic will be based as much — or more — on defense as offense as ISU seeks its first Elite Eight berth since 2000. The overriding mission’s obvious: Stop, or slow, Napier.
“That’s all you can do, that’s all you can ask of your guys, is to make him take tough shots,” Hoiberg said.l Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org