UConn’s Ryan Boatright came between Harvard’s Siyani Chambers (1) and Jonah Travis.
UConn’s Ryan Boatright came between Harvard’s Siyani Chambers (1) and Jonah Travis.
fred beckham/associated press

UConn 57
Harvard 49

STORRS, Conn. — The same virtue and vice pop up on a nightly basis for Shabazz Napier: selfish or unselfish.

No one would knock him either way. Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie would happily take the buckets.

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“I want him to go out and get 18 points, because I know he’s capable of it,” Ollie said.

But there’s so much else out there — passing, defending, rebounding, leading — for Napier to do.

Usually, the decision is a quick one.

“It takes me five minutes to realize it,” said Napier, a former Charlestown (Mass.) High star. “When I see that somebody else is scoring, and I see that it’s better for me not to score, that’s when I realize it.”

The Huskies were about eight minutes into their 57-49 win over Harvard Friday night at Gampel Pavilion when it hit Napier.

DeAndre Daniels, a sophomore forward with the ability to score in waves but not always the confidence, had 8 of UConn’s first 15 points, the Huskies had a 13-point lead, and Napier wasn’t even on the scoreboard.

It wasn’t necessarily uncommon. He had been notoriously quiet in the first half of games all season (averaging 5.8 points in the first half but 11.4 points in the second). But Napier realized he wasn’t the one who needed to be scoring.

“You can just tell by your teammates’ body language,” he said. “DeAndre was scoring like that, you see his eyes just light up. You don’t want to take it away from him. I wouldn’t want somebody to take it away from me.”

Daniels was having the night of his life. He matched his career-high 15 points by the end of the first half. He finished with 23 on 9-of-12 shooting.

Daniels had to stretch on the hardwood during the first television timeout because of back spasms. But even the pain could not slow him down.

“I actually didn’t think he was [hurt] until I saw him laying on the floor, then I realized his back was tightening up again,” said Napier. “But when you start scoring and that adrenaline gets in you, all those back problems — even serious back problems — that goes out the window.”

Napier didn’t score in the first half. Overall, Ryan Boatwright (16 points) handled the scoring for the Huskies’ backcourt, while Napier finished with 6 points, his second fewest of the season.

But with 7 rebounds, 9 assists, and 4 steals, Napier left his fingerprints elsewhere. In one stretch, with the Huskies up just, 39-34, over a Crimson team trying to snap an eight-game losing streak in the series, Napier ziplined a pass to Tyler Olander for an easy layup, came back the other way and stripped Wesley Saunders (14 points) on the way up for a fast-break layup, and drilled a 3-pointer that put the Huskies up, 44-34, pulling the strings on the most important run of the game.

“I don’t know if he showed up the first half,” Ollie said. “But the second half, he showed up.”

That was when the Huskies needed him most.

UConn let the 15-2 lead built largely by Daniels go up in smoke with turnovers and poor defending at the 3-point line, and from there the Huskies had to scrap to hang on to a thin lead.

In the second half, Harvard closed to within 3 points four times, and within 1 twice.

It wasn’t the first time teetering on the seesaw for UConn this season.

The Huskies had pushed Ollie’s pulse to the limit in wins over Wake Forest and Stony Brook.

This one had the feel of their 61-53 win over New Hampshire, in which they never trailed but never had complete control.

“For us to play the way we play, Coach is going to get gray hair, and he’s only [39] years old,” Napier said. “He’s going to look like [former coach Jim] Calhoun in two months. And we don’t want that to happen.”

When this one was no longer in doubt, Napier was the one dribbling out the clock, quietly pleased.

“I’m a point guard,” he said. “I don’t really care too much about scoring. As long as my team wins, that’s all I care about.”