NEW YORK – Riding a wave of momentum, UConn advanced to the Final Four by virtue of a thrilling victory at Madison Square Garden. The 60-54 decision over Michigan State in the East regional final was a thrilling contest that electrified the storied edifice. The possession numbers saw a 61-possession (slower) game, with UConn owning a 98-90 edge in offensive efficiency.
Three points of emphasis:
- Following coach Kevin Ollie’s game plan. The UConn mentor wanted to keep the Spartans out of the lane. On the afternoon, Michigan State attempted 63 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc. Up to today 36 percent of their attempts were long distance. They shot 11 of 29 for a 38 percent mark. Inside, UConn enjoyed a 16-6 advantage in points in the paint. “We did a good job on doubling (Andreian) Payne when he caught it inside,” Ollie said. “We got a very good defensive effort inside.” A low post threat, Payne scored 13 points, but shot 4 of 14 from the floor.
- Toughness. With 16:33 left the Spartans enjoyed their largest lead of nine points. “We didn’t panic,” said UConn’s Shabazz Napier, a game-high 25-point scorer and the East regional MOP. “Coach told us just keep being aggressive out there.”
They did, and in the next five minutes went on a game-altering 11-2 run that gave them a lead they would not lose. The Huskies forced Michigan State into a very high 27 percent turnover rate. The turnovers, in Michigan State coach Tom Izzo’s assessment, was the difference in the game. UConn showed an outstanding 13 percent on their end. They did a god job getting to the line and taking advantage. UConn hit 21 of 22 free throws. “Sometimes,” Ollie said, “toughness is expressed by getting to the line and making your free throws.”
- The Garden. In the post game presser, one writer asked Ollie to discuss the physicality of the Big Ten and Big East. Excuse the slip but UConn calls the American Athletic Conference home. Regardless, they have built a strong tradition of Garden excellence through their years in the Big East. Both Ollie and Napier explained how special it was winning the regional here and just how special it is to step on the Garden floor. Ollie also noted the proximity was a key as scores of fans took the train or headed down I-95 to get to New York. “Our fans,” he coach said, “at times gave us added energy to feed off.”
DeAndre Daniels, UCONN
Garry Harris, Michigan Sate
Andreian Payne, Michigan State
Dustin Hogue, Iowa State
Most Outstanding Player: Shabazz Napier, UCONN