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Shabazz Napier and UConn's Seniors Go out with Win over Rutgers

Shabazz Napier is one of the most beloved players to ever come through Storrs.
Shabazz Napier is one of the most beloved players to ever come through Storrs.Fred Beckham/Associated Press
Ryan TolmichCorrespondent IIMarch 6, 2014

Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities starts off by saying, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

Those 12 words are most likely the most fitting way to describe UConn's 2014 senior class, as the trio of four-year Huskies have endured experiences unlike any other class in the country.

It began in 2010-11 with a national championship, was followed with a 2012 collapse, a 2013 postseason ban and now, a 2014 resurgence that sees the program nationally ranked on the back of its senior point guard.

Shabazz Napier and the Huskies are hoping to bring the best of times back to Storrs, as the Huskies' 69-63 win over Rutgers is the beginning of a long road back to the national spotlight. 

Napier led the way for the Huskies with 26 points, including hitting seven of 11 from three-point range. Joining Napier was fellow senior Niels Giffey, who, according to Napier, engaged his teammate in an impromptu three-point contest with four long-range shots of his own.

The ending of Napier, Giffey and Tyler Olander's UConn careers are on the horizon, but for one last game, the trio were able to enjoy playing on a floor they celebrated a national championship on just three years earlier.

"It was definitely a special moment," Napier said about the pregame ceremony that saw each senior honored in front of a sold-out Gampel Pavilion crowd. "I was just so focused on playing that I was just ready to get out there. The guys thought I was going to be the first to cry, but I told them that it wasn't like last year where I knew it was going to be our last game. I was just excited for it to be senior day, but I was more excited to play."

Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander both played their last games at Gampel Pavilion
Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander both played their last games at Gampel PavilionDavid Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

It's crazy to think UConn was so close to never having a senior night quite like tonight, as Napier, Giffey and Olander all could have been a part of the mass exodus that hit the program with the 2012-13 APR ban. 

"They could have left," said head coach Kevin Ollie. "They could have transferred. They could have done a lot of things. But one thing they said was that, 'we're going to stay through the tough times, we're going to get this program to where we belong.' They kept this program alive. I owe them a lot and I can never repay them for what they gave me."

"I thought about it with the fellas a couple days ago," Napier said when reminiscing on the difficult times. "We were just sitting and talking and remembering all of the funny times with our former teammates. I really didn't think too much about it other than that."

It has been a memorable four years for UConn on the court. However, Giffey said his best memories didn't come during the confines of a game, but during times with his adopted brothers.

"The funny thing is that the stories I'm going to remember are the stories from when all of us had been here late nights or over the summer getting all of these extra lifts in," said an emotional Giffey. "Those are the things that stick with you. Just being in the huddle. I think of a couple situations with Kemba. Those are the things that really stick with you."

UConn's seniors may have played their last game at Gampel Pavilion, but Ollie promised UConn fans they would see their seniors one more time in the coming weeks.

"We'll be back the second week of April," Ollie said while addressing the student section after the win. "We're raising a banner."

Do the Huskies have a chance of giving their seniors another national title? Have your say with a comment below or tweet @R_Tolmich with your opinion.

All quotes obtained firsthand

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