The story of the UConn this season is a remarkable one, which begins with head coach Kevin Ollie and the fantastic job he’s done since taking over last year, and leaders like Shabazz Napier, with a chance to win a second national title becoming reality after leading his team to a 60-54 win over Michigan State.
The Huskies are only the second #7 seed to reach the Final Four. The previous one was Virginia in 1984, but they lost in the semifinals to Houston. Connecticut now have to face the number one team in the nation, Florida, if they’re going to be in a second final in four years, but they’ve been overcoming the odds pretty well so far, beating teams like Iowa State and Michigan State along the way.
UConn aren’t afraid to go toe to toe with anyone, but Michigan State offered a different kind of challenge because of their ability to score in the paint. So the Huskies addressed that and did a tremendous job on Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson, limiting the two of them to only 18 points on 5-of-17 from the field. The Spartans scored only six points in the paint, their season low and the second fewest for any team in the last five Men’s Basketball Championships. The previous low was Butler against UConn in the 2011 final with only two.
Michigan State just couldn’t get the game running, and were awful in half court offense. They did score 22 points in transition, including six three pointers, but 14 of those came in the first half. The second half? Almost nothing. They were 10-of-32 from the field on half court possessions, not to mention the 14 turnovers, looking completely perplexed as to how and figure out the UConn defense.
Shabazz Napier was a freshman when Kemba Walker took UConn all the way to the national title in 2011, and it seems like he took plenty of notes from the point guard. He scored 25 points with 4 3-pointers, adding 6 rebounds and 4 assists in another dominant performance, and just like Walker in that tournament run, he has assisted and scored on over 45% of UConn’s points, responsible for 33 of the 60 points in the win over the Spartans.
Ryan Boatright did a great job with 4 steals, and plenty of credit needs to go to Phillip Nolan at center and DeAndre Daniels, doing an amazing job on two of the best interior players in the country. The team Connecticut feared the most, Louisville, is no longer in the tournament, so anything that comes next, which happens to be Florida, a team they’ve beaten this season with a Napier buzzer beater, is something they feel they can handle. Kevin Ollie brings the team to the Final Four on his second year at the job, the first season of eligibility for the school under him. Jim Calhoun did a good job in picking the guy to follow him.
We’re going to be well prepared, because I know about these guys’ heart. That’s what got us through: It was a heart of a champion, heart of a lion.