UConn has had a tough road to the elite 8. They defeated Saint Joseph’s the Atlantic 10 champion Saint Joseph’s Hawks in overtime in the 2nd round. They defeated the 2 seed in Villanova in the 3rd round. In the Sweet 16 they had to face Iowa State, a team that is missing players due to injury, however they were still good enough to make it this far. While Shabazz Napier had been a one man show for the Huskies in the regular season (leading the team in scoring, rebounding, and assists) he was more than willing to play the role of distributor and get the ball to teammate DeAndre Daniels who had 19 of his 27 points in the second half in the 81-76 UConn victory. Daniels was the only Huskie to make a field goal over the 8 minutes of the second half. His dominant play had his team up 49-32 at one point but the Cyclones battled back and pulled to within 4 points with a little over 2 minutes remaining. That is where the comeback ended as UConn made the necessary plays to send themselves into the Elite 8.
After defeating Delaware in the second round and skating by Harvard in the 3rd round, Michigan State knew it would be in for a much tougher test as they faced the number 1 seed in the region in Virginia. Virginia came into the game with a chip on their shoulder, they were sick of hearing the prognosticators say that Michigan State was going to advance from the region that they were the top seed in. Michigan State then proceeded to make the experts look smart as they grinded out a 61-59 victory. Adrien Payne was magnificent for the Spartans and his 3 pointer with a 1:30 left gave his team the lead for good. Smart Basketball and clutch free throw shooting took over from there and the Spartans advanced to the Elite 8.
The Spartans struggled mightily in the beginning of the second half but got in gear for the final 8 minutes. Payne finished with 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists including a big alley-oop pass down the stretch. Branden Dawson had his best game of the season with 24 points and 10 rebounds. These were the only two Spartans in double figures and they will need to find more balance if they are going to win a national championship.
The performance from Daniels showed that UConn is not just a one-man team. Napier got them going early with 4 three pointers and Daniels carried them the rest of the way. One main reason for their success has been the incredible free throw shooting. They were 13-14 in the games final 5 minutes and that made them 48-53 in the final 5 minute of games in the tournament. Napier finished with 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. Ryan Boatright had 16 points and Terrence Samuel rounded out the double figure scorers with 10 points.
Michigan State can beat you in many ways. They can use their size to pound you inside or use their experienced guards to break down a defense. UConn is not as deep and would need a huge performance from players other than Napier and Daniel’s if they want to pull this out.
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