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 championship.
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.
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.
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 final stages.
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 Final Four.
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.
Gary 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.
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 the period.
Final Score: Kentucky 75, Michigan 72
Indianapolis, IN (SportsNetwork.com) - Aaron Harrison and the Kentucky Wildcats proved once again they've finally come of age, advancing to the Final Four with a thrilling 75-72 victory over Michigan on the freshman guard's tie- breaking 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds remaining.
Harrison's incredibly clutch basket gave the rookie-dominated Wildcats a surprise Midwest Region title as an eighth seed in which they knocked off a trio of 2013 Final Four participants to get there. Kentucky (28-10) earned a trip to the Elite Eight with wins over previously unbeaten Wichita State and defending national champ Louisville, then punched its ticket to the national semis by outlasting the 2013 runner-up Wolverines in a down-to-the-wire nailbiter.
Harrison scored nine of his 12 points in the final 4 1/2 minutes, with three other members of Kentucky's heralded freshman class also coming up with key contributions. Julius Randle racked up 16 points and 11 rebounds, James Young had 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting and Marcus Lee came through with 10 points and eight rebounds in an extended role.
Lee, who came in averaging just 2.0 points and 1.2 rebounds per game, helped offset the absence of starting center Willie Cauley-Stein, sidelined by a sprained ankle sustained in Friday's win over Louisville in the Sweet 16. Even with the 7-foot defensive specialist out of action, the Wildcats outrebounded the Wolverines by a 35-24 margin and produced 46 points in the paint.
Michigan's Nik Stauskas topped all scorers with 24 points, but his desperation 3-point try from halfcourt at the buzzer landed well off the mark as the Wolverines' (28-9) bid for a second straight Final Four berth came up just short.