The Sweet Sixteen game between UConn and Iowa State was going to be the highest scoring encounter of the stage and didn’t disappoint, but having more balance, with DeAndre Daniels, Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, proved to be more important than one star doing all the work, as the Huskies moved into the Elite Eight with a 81-76 win.
Things just didn’t work as smoothly for the Cyclones as they did for the Huskies for most of the game. DeAndre Kane was only 6-of-18 from the field; Melvin Ejim was 3-of-13. Yes, we did get a huge effort from Dustin Hogue, scoring 34 points on 15-of-19 from the field, but Iowa State couldn’t keep up with UConn’s outside shooting and their ability to make their offense a little bit less predictable.
DeAndre Daniels led the way with 27 points and 10 rebounds. Napier had a big game with 19 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists, getting some impressive help from Boatright who scored 16 points. Connecticut shot 52% from the field, 47.4% from beyond the arc and maybe most importantly, 90.9% from the line, as they kept going to the stripe late in the game. Iowa State, in comparison, shot a very poor 6-of-15 when they had their free throws, possibly making all of the difference eventually, negating their huge advantage on the boards, grabbing 17 offensive rebounds.
Playing Michigan State and their big front court next isn’t going to make it any easier for UConn, who struggle against the big, physical teams, and have to make up for that with some exceptional scoring and discipline on offense, which means spreading the ball instead of players trying to be heroes on their own, which is part of what lost the game for the Cyclones, among other mistakes they’ve made.
As much as Iowa State’s rise under Fred Hoiberg over the last few seasons has been impressive, UConn coming out to win three consecutive tournament games despite their size and rebounding problems and especially after the bans they’ve had to deal with last year is nothing short of remarkable. Niles Giffey and Shabazz Napier were both Freshmen when UConn won the national title against Butler in 2011.
Last year UConn weren’t allowed to play in the NCAA and conference tournament. Some thought it might be a mini-death penalty for the program, which would have had to deal with players transferring, and recruits not wanting to come. But Kevin Ollie has made it something close to a smooth transition from the days of Jim Calhoun, a legend in UConn with three national titles, but also someone who didn’t have the happiest of endings, stepping down amid all the controversy surrounding the upcoming sanctions.
We were banned from a lot of things. We couldn’t come here for the tournament, but they weren’t banned from loving and pushing and encouraging each other, and that’s what it’s all about. Those dark times, if you don’t give up in the dark times, it will reverse, the wind will start going in your favor, your direction. And I think that’s what’s happened now.