NEW YORK – The 2014 Final Four is set. One of the last teams to advance was Connecticut, 60-54 winners over Michigan State at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
Some notes from what was a classic in every sense:
- UConn’s victory Sunday sent the Huskies to their fifth Final Four. It will also mark their third Final Four appearance in six years.
- Dangerous at crunch time: Close games are a way of life as you advance deeper in the tournament. UConn has excelled at the free throw line, making them a tough team to come back on in the final minutes. The Huskies shot a season-best 95.5% (21 of 22) against Michigan State in the regional final. They have also shot over 90% on three occasions during this tournament.
- As noted last time, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo cited turnovers the difference. The Spartans committed 16 against UConn. Their season high was 17, and the Huskies capitalized by scoring 18 points off those Spartan errors. A game decided indeed.
- UConn became only the second seven seed to reach the Final Four. The other was Virginia in 1984. The Cavaliers back then were coached by Terry Holland and among the assistants were Jim Larranaga and Seth Greenberg.
- UConn’s DeAndre Daniels on the feeling of going Final Four: “To get to Texas (site of the Final Four) is special. To win this here at Madison Square Garden is really great… we have pride in our defense, playing it 94 feet. Really look forward to playing Florida in the Final Four.”
- On the board in the UConn locker room was a very simple reminder: “The team that is toughest will win.” Both teams are known for that toughness and character, but on this day UConn had a little more.
- Kevin Ollie with another coaching classic observation: “When you play the right way, you play for what is on the front of your jersey not the back.”
- UConn defense expressed in tempo free showed the Huskies allowing Michigan State just a 90 offensive efficiency. On their end UConn posted a 98.
- The pace was a more deliberate 61 possessions. Michigan State pushed the ball early and was willing to take an available three in transition. Kevin Ollie’s club did a nice job sticking with their game plan, even when they fell behind by nine early in the second half.
- Shabazz Napier, the regional MOP, led all with 25 points. The UConn guard was also an efficiency leader with a 26.
- Gary Harris led Michigan State with 22 points and an 18 efficiency.
- As noted, Adreian Payne was defended well down low by the Huskies. Payne did score 13 points and register a 15 efficiency. That was largely due to his game-high nine boards. He did get defended and forced into 4 of 14 shooting from the floor.
- I said it before but is worth repeating: efficiency numbers are a nice point of reference, but do not measure heart and competitive drive, especially in adverse situations.
- Bench scoring was noticeably low, with Michigan State “enjoying” a 3-2 scoring edge. Both coaches stayed long with starters. The UConn starting five ranged from 27 to 38 minutes of action. Michigan State was close, with their starters logging between 28 and 38 minutes.