NCAA Game Summary - Connecticut vs. Michigan State|
(Sunday, March 30th)
Final Score: Connecticut 60, Michigan State 54
New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - In 2011, Connecticut rode an incredible
individual stretch from their point guard all the way to a national
Three years later, the Huskies are back in the Final Four, and in no small
part due to the efforts of their current floor general.
Shabazz Napier put up 25 points and six rebounds while carrying Connecticut in
the second half, and the Huskies punched their ticket to North Texas with a
60-54 decision over Michigan State in the East Region final in front of a pro-
Huskies crowd at Madison Square Garden.
Seventeen of Napier's points came after halftime, and seven were amassed
during a pivotal 12-0 run that turned UConn's nine-point deficit into a 35-32
lead with under 12 minutes left.
The senior standout later sealed the Huskies' advancement by sinking all three
free throws after being fouled by Keith Appling on a long-distance attempt,
giving UConn a 56-51 lead with 30.6 seconds left.
"You could just see it, he wasn't going to let his team lose," Spartans guard
Gary Harris said of Napier. "He's a winner and he willed his team to victory."
DeAndre Daniels added 12 points and eight rebounds for the Huskies (30-8), who
became only the second-ever No. 7 seed to reach the Final Four. They certainly
earned the trip, knocking off second-seeded Villanova and third-seeded Iowa
State prior to downing the Big Ten Tournament champion Spartans.
The Huskies now get a rematch with No. 1 overall seed Florida, whom UConn
dealt a 65-64 loss in Storrs on Dec. 2, in Saturday's national semifinal at
AT&T Stadium. The Gators have ripped off a school-record 30 straight wins
since that result.
"We're going to be well prepared, because I know about these guys' heart, and
that's what got us through," Huskies head coach Kevin Ollie said. "It was a
heart of a champion, heart of a lion, and I love these guys."
While Napier put forth a performance reminiscent of former teammate Kemba
Walker's amazing five-game run that catapulted the Huskies to a surprise 2011
Big East Tournament title in the same building, Michigan State's senior point
guard endured an outing to forget. Appling managed just two points and four
turnovers before fouling out on his ill-advised late hack of Napier in the
Appling, along with forward Adreian Payne, became the first four-year players
in head coach Tom Izzo's 19-year tenure at Michigan State to never reach a
Payne tallied 13 points and nine rebounds, but shot just 4-of-14 from the
floor, and the fourth-seeded Spartans (29-9) were also hurt by 16 turnovers
that the Huskies converted into 18 points.
"Unfortunately we did not bring our 'A' game today, and we got what we
deserved today," said Izzo. "I tried to tell these guys that when you get to
the Tournament, you've got to bring it every second. And today Connecticut
did and we just kind of weren't as good as we have been."
Harris was Michigan State's lone consistent scoring threat, finishing with
22 points while knocking down four 3-pointers.
The Spartans owned a 32-23 lead with 16 1/2 minutes remaining following five
straight points from Payne, but went scoreless on eight consecutive
possessions thereafter as Connecticut came roaring back.
Napier buried a triple to ignite the Huskies' tide-turning 12-0 tear, then
later hit four straight free throws before Daniels came through with a 3-point
play that gave UConn a 35-32 edge with 11:46 to go.
"Coach told to us keep our composure," said Napier. "They made their run and
it was time for us to make ours. And when Coach looks at me a certain way, I
just know I got to be more aggressive, and I got to open shots when my
teammates got me the ball and we just kept running. And guys were just making
The Huskies kept on rolling, with Napier answering a Harris three with one of
his own and feeding Niels Giffey for a run-out slam on Connecticut's next trip
down the court for a 46-39 advantage with 7:37 left. A Ryan Boatright trey
just over a minute later had the Huskies ahead by double digits.
Michigan State closed the gap behind consecutive 3-pointers from Denzel
Valentine and Harris, and later pulled within 51-49 on Appling's lone bucket
of the game -- a tough left-handed layup with 2:38 to go.
It was still a two-point differential when Appling got a piece of Napier's
right arm on the latter's try from beyond the arc with 30.6 seconds on the
clock. Napier calmly drained all three bonus attempts before Phillip Nolan put
the game away for Connecticut with a transition dunk that came after the
Spartans' Travis Trice was off the mark from 3-point range.
The Spartans also started the contest ice-cold, misfiring on eight of their
first nine field goal attempts as Connecticut opened on a 12-2 run, but
reversed the momentum with a 12-4 surge and later grabbed their first lead of
the day when the second of back-to-back Harris 3-pointers created a 22-21
score with 3:28 left in the first half.
Harris' two treys were at the forefront of a 9-0 tear the Spartans closed out
the half on, with a Valentine three in the final seconds sending Michigan
State into the break up by a 25-21 count.
The Spartans' rally was aided by a prolonged offensive drought by the Huskies,
who went a dismal 3-for-21 from the field over the remainder of the first half
after beginning the game 5-for-8. UConn failed to score over the final 5:27 of
Virginia had been the only previous No. 7 seed to reach the Final Four, doing
so in 1984 ... The Spartans lost for only the second time in eight Elite Eight
matchups under Izzo, with the lone other defeat coming to Texas in the 2003
tourney ... Michigan State fell to 3-12 all-time at Madison Square Garden and
dropped a 64-60 decision to Georgetown there on Feb. 1 ... The schools last
met in Germany in the 2012-13 opener for both, with Connecticut posting a
66-62 in Ollie's first game as head coach ... Napier set a UConn record by
playing his 141st career game and moved past NBA star Ray Allen for fourth
place on the Huskies' all-time scoring list. Napier now has 1,925 career
03/30 20:25:46 ET