2:20 PM ET, March 30, 2014
Madison Square Garden, New York, New York
Shabazz Napier, No. 7 seed UConn top Michigan St. to reach Final Four
He could have transferred when academic sanctions barred the Huskies from the NCAA tournament his junior season. But the guard wanted to pay back the school for the joy of a national title his freshman year, for his struggles as a sophomore.
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Napier sure did that Sunday, carrying UConn back to the Final Four in front of thousands of roaring Huskies fans at Madison Square Garden. He scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half in a 60-54 upset of fourth-seeded Michigan State.
The East Regional's most outstanding player hit three huge free throws with 37.6 seconds left, making clutch shot after clutch shot just as Kemba Walker did when Napier was a freshman. The Huskies (30-8) rallied from a nine-point second-half deficit to become the first No. 7 seed to reach the Final Four since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
"His will to win -- you could just see it," said Gary Harris, who led Michigan State with 22 points. "He wasn't going to let his team lose."
The Spartans' seniors become the first four-year players recruited by Tom Izzo to fail to make a Final Four.
"As the game got closer and closer to ending, it was on my mind a lot, every huddle," said big man Adreian Payne, who had 13 points and nine rebounds but was repeatedly pushed to the perimeter by UConn's defenders.
The undersized Huskies matched Michigan State's physical play box-out for box-out, holding the Spartans (29-9) to just six offensive rebounds and six points in the paint.
"We're physical, too," said second-year coach Kevin Ollie, who is now 4-0 in the NCAA tournament after replacing mentor Jim Calhoun. "Don't get it mixed up. We are predators out there."
UConn dared Michigan State to shoot 3-pointers, and the Spartans nearly made enough, going 11 for 29 from behind the arc. Harris was 4 for 9 on 3s, but his teammates were a combined 10 for 32 from the floor.
Trailing 51-49 with more than two minutes left, Michigan State had a chance to tie or take the lead. Payne fumbled the ball away, and Napier drilled a jumper on the other end.
After Payne's free throws pulled the Spartans back within two, Keith Appling was whistled for a foul -- his fifth -- for contact with Napier on a 3-point attempt. Napier extended the lead to 56-51, and after Travis Trice missed a 3, Phillip Nolan slipped free for a dunk that clinched the victory.
"We got what we deserved today," Izzo said. "I tried to tell these guys that, when you get to the tournament, you got to bring it every second. And today Connecticut did, and we just kind of weren't as good as we have been."
Ryan Boatright made four steals as Michigan State committed 16 turnovers. Some were caused by UConn's quickness, others by what Izzo called poor decisions by the Spartans.
DeAndre Daniels shut down Branden Dawson, who scored 24 points in Michigan State's Sweet 16 win over top-seeded Virginia. Dawson attempted just three field goals, making one, to finish with five points.
Among teams that have played at least three Final Four games, UConn has the all-time best winning percentage.
Best Win Pct in Final Four
NCAA Tournament History
|*- min. 3 games|
**- includes vacated games
--ESPN Stats & Information
The 6-foot-10, 245-pound Payne hit two long jumpers to put Michigan State up 32-23 less than four minutes into the second half. But Napier started driving, getting the bigger Appling in foul trouble and UConn back in the game.
"When Coach looks at me a certain way, I just know I got to be more aggressive," said Napier, who passed Ray Allen for fourth on the Huskies' all-time scoring list with 1,925 points.
After hitting four straight free throws to tie the score at 32 with 12:38 left, Napier was struck in the face by Harris -- the UConn guard was called for a foul on the play -- and left the court with his nose gushing blood. He was back less than a minute later when Daniels completed a three-point play to give the Huskies the lead for good.
Boatright's contested 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down put UConn up 49-39 with less than seven minutes left.
The Huskies won their third national title in 2011, but they were ineligible for last year's tournament because of previous low scores on the NCAA's academic progress measure.
They face Florida in the national semifinals Saturday, and they'll be confident they can beat the No. 1 overall seed. The Gators have won 30 straight, but their last loss was to UConn, 65-64 on Dec. 2.
After the Huskies were routed 81-48 by Louisville in the regular-season finale, Ollie showed his players video of that victory to remind them of what happens when they play frenetic defense.
"We're going to be well prepared, because I know about these guys' heart," Ollie said. "That's what got us through: It was a heart of a champion, heart of a lion."
NCAA Mens Tournament
Around Champ Week
Deciding factor: Michigan State's inability to get the ball inside. The Spartans had just six point in the paint, 14 fewer than their previous season low and the second fewest for any team in the past five NCAA tournaments. Of their 46 field goal attempts, 29 were from 3-point range.
Player of the game: UConn's Shabazz Napier. The senior guard had 25 points, six rebounds and was 9-for-9 at the free throw line on Sunday. He is now averaging 23.25 points for the tournament.
Key stat: Although Michigan State won the rebounding battle, the Spartans finished with two second-chance points, their fewest in any game in the last two seasons.
Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||17-49 (.347)||18-46 (.391)|
|3P Made-Attempted||5-22 (.227)||11-29 (.379)|
|FT Made-Attempted||21-22 (.955)||7-8 (.875)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||12 (0/0)||16 (0/0)|
|» Mar 30, 2014||CONN 60, @MSU 54||Recap|
UConn is the 2nd 7 seed ever to reach the Final Four. Virginia made the Final Four in 1984 and lost in the National Semifinals to Houston. Rick Carlisle and Olden Polynice were on that Virginia team.
This is the 1st time Tom Izzo (and Michigan State) has lost in the Elite 8 as the higher seed (previously 4-0).[+]
Elite 8 as Higher Seed - Michigan State Under Tom Izzo
Michigan State scored six points in the paint, 14 fewer than its previous season low and the second fewest for any team in the last five Men's Basketball Championships (Butler scored two vs Connecticut in 2011).[+]
Michigan State in the Paint
Michigan State had four more turnovers in the half court than field goals. In transition, the Spartans hit six 3-point field goals, the most for any team in the last five tournaments. They hit four of the six in the first half.[+]
The last two players to lead their team to a Final Four while scoring or assisting on at least 45% of their team's points in the tournament are Shabazz Napier and Kemba Walker.[+]
New Top Dog
Shabazz Napier has 93 points, 18 assists and 24 rebounds so far in the tournament[+]
At Least 90 Pts, 15 Ast, 20 Reb - First 4 Tournament Games, Single NCAA Tournament
Kevin Ollie is the 4th coach in the last 20 years to reach the Final Four within his first 2 seasons as a Division I head coach, joining VCU's Shaka Smart, Indiana's Mike Davis and North Carolina's Bill Guthridge. None of the other 3 coaches won the National Championship.[+]
Least Experienced Head Coaches - To Reach Final Four Last 20 Years
The seed total of UConn's opponents in its path to the Final Four is 19, and the seed total of Kentucky's opponents is 16.[+]
Lowest Opponent Seed Total - Team Entering Final Four Since 1985
ESPN Stats & Information