Huskies in the Pros: Stewart, Liberty fall short, Walker and Napier square off 

Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum (10) grabs the ball between New York Liberty guard Courtney Vandersloot, left, and forward Breanna Stewart, right, during the second half in Game 2 of a WNBA basketball final playoff series Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023, in Las Vegas. AP Photo/John Locher

WNBA: MVP Breanna Stewart held to 3/17 in season-ending defeat to Las Vegas in WNBA Finals 

With a chance to force a series-deciding game five in the WNBA Finals, Stewart and the New York Liberty jumped out to an early 23-13 lead at home against the Aces on Wednesday. New York took a nine-point lead into halftime and sustained it until about the midway point of the third quarter before going cold offensively. An 18-5 run by Las Vegas over the final seven minutes of the third quarter sent the Liberty to the fourth quarter trailing 53-51. The teams traded runs throughout the final quarter, but New York couldn’t find the basket on the final possession of the game with the team trailing 70-69.  

Despite being held to 3/17 from the field, it was still an unforgettable 2023 campaign for former UConn superstar Stewart. After making the surprise move to New York as the top free agent in the offseason, the two-time champion led the Liberty to the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Stewart finishes her second MVP season with 23 points and 9.3 rebounds per game on 47% accuracy from the field. 

EuroLeague: Legendary UConn guards Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier square off in European Basketball League 

Two point guards who will forever be immortalized in UConn basketball history for leading their squads to improbable National Championship runs squared off as opponents in Wednesday’s Euro League contest between Crvena zvezda and AC Monaco.  

The game itself didn’t feature too much of either player as Walker finished with two points in 10 minutes and Napier scored seven in 21 minutes.  

Walker and Napier were teammates on Connecticut’s magical National Championship run in 2011. That run saw Walker lead the ninth-place Huskies to five wins in five days to capture the Big East Championship, before emerging as the last team standing in the NCAA Tournament. Walker, a junior at the time, averaged 26 points per game during UConn’s Big East title run and then 23.5 points over the six NCAA Tournament games.  

After Walker moved onto the pros, it was Napier’s turn to lead UConn on a run of his own. In 2014, Connecticut wasn’t looked at as a serious contender by many, as the Huskies were slated as a seven seed in the bracket. In similar fashion to what Connecticut did in 2011, Napier put the Huskies on his shoulders and led UConn to the program’s fourth national championship in program history. The 2014 Huskies are still the only seven-seed in NCAA Tournament history to win a National Championship. 

Both players landed in the first round following their respective title runs. Walker’s college success led to a top-10 draft selection by the Charlotte Bobcats (now known as the Hornets) in the 2011 NBA Draft. The 6-foot point guard from New York quickly emerged as one of the greatest players the franchise has ever seen with three All-Star selections and All-NBA selection in 2018. After eight terrific years in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Boston Celtics landed the former UConn star on a four year, $114 million deal to take over as the franchise’s starting point guard. Despite another All-Star appearance in the 2019-2020 season, injuries began to slow down Walker’s production and led to significant missed time. After two years in Boston, Walker made brief stints with the Knicks and Mavericks before ending up in Europe with Monaco.  

Napier fell to the Miami Heat at No. 24 in the 2014 NBA Draft, largely as a ploy to keep LeBron James on the Heat rather than being a good fit. Without a system that fit his skillset, things didn’t work out for the point guard in Miami and his development was hindered. Napier bounced around six different teams across seven years in the NBA before going overseas and ending up with Crvena zvezda in the EuroLeague. 

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