Connecticut star Shabazz Napier is doubtful for Saturday’s season finale against Providence with a foot injury. Talented freshman guard Omar Calhoun is questionable as he’s playing through an injured wrist. Even with both Calhoun and Napier in the lineup, UConn coach Kevin Ollie faces a potentially bigger question heading into Saturday: who guards Kadeem Batts?
Batts was a major matchup problem for Connecticut when the two teams met at the end of January – an 82-79 UConn win in overtime. He had 20 points and nine rebounds, and that was when the Huskies still had 7’1 center Enosch Wolf and 6’9 power forward Tyler Olander to check him. The duo not only had trouble keeping Batts from scoring, but simply staying on the court. Batts was largely responsible for fouling Olander out in just 12 minutes and doing the same to Wolf in 20.
Five weeks later Providence visits Connecticut and Ollie will be without the services of both Wolf and Olander, leaving them beyond thin up front. Seldom-used freshman Phillip Nolan (4 DNP-CDs from the middle of January through February) has been thrust into a bigger role at the tail end of the season and the 210 pound forward will have to matchup with Batts for a large portion on Saturday afternoon. Advantage Friars.
Kadeem Batts has answered questions all season long. He swore he matured prior to the season kicking off and didn’t take long to establish himself as a leader for this bunch. After Vincent Council was injured in the opener there were questions about whether PC could beat Bryant the next time out. Batts dominated with 27 points (12-15 shooting) and nine rebounds in a blowout victory.
He averaged 17 and 10 for a shorthanded team in Puerto Rico soon after.
He closed the first semester with 55 points in wins against Mississippi State and Rhode Island.
Questions remained about whether he could produce at this level once conference play started, and he’s more than done so – scoring 20 points or more five times since Providence and UConn last met.
Saturday marks one more test for Batts. Providence can’t afford a loss if they are to enter the Big East Tournament with any realistic shot of making the NCAA Tournament, and Batts represents the biggest problem for Connecticut in their last game ever in the Big East.
In a game loaded with talented guards it may be the PC big man who determines if the Friars march towards Madness continues.