Men's Basketball: UConn tops Iowa State in Sweet 16, one win away from Final Four
UConn point guard Shabazz Napier looks on as the final buzzer sounds at Madison Square Garden. The Huskies beat Iowa State 81-76 Friday night to advance to the Elite Eight. JESS CONDON/The Daily Campus
NEW YORK - At this point last year, Shabazz Napier was sitting in his dorm room watching "River Monsters" on Animal Planet, the result of UConn's ban from the postseason.
Now, Napier and the Huskies, playing on what they call their third home floor in front of a pro-UConn crowd, are one win away from a trip to the Final Four.
Napier scored 19 points and was one of four UConn players in double figures, as the No. 7 seed in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament advanced to the Elite Eight with an 81-76 win over No. 3 Iowa State at Madison Square Garden.
"What we wanted to achieve with this group and everybody that's been there for the last couple years, it's just amazing right now," Niels Giffey said. "From here on, it's just fun to play. Elite Eight, Final Four, whatever. Madison Square Garden. It's just fun to play."
From the start, it looked like UConn and Iowa State were going to go back and forth in every way imaginable. Napier and DeAndre Kane both hit big shots early. There was a battle to establish the pace between UConn's slow tempo and Iowa State's quick offense. The fans were yelling over each other.
The early edge went to UConn.
Iowa State was having trouble keeping possession. UConn's defense appeared to be too much for the Cyclones to handle. Then, Napier started to take over.
Napier hit four 3-pointers in the first half, leading the Huskies with 12 points. Each three was different than the last, yet each one had its own touch of brilliance. A crossover here, a stepback there, the Cyclones had no match for the Huskies' fifth-leading scorer in history. In the early going, even with Ryan Boatright adding 10 points of his own in the first half, it looked like it was going to be Napier's night, and Napier's night alone.
But in the second half, DeAndre Daniels caught fire.
UConn's second-leading scorer through the first two games of the tournament, Daniels continued what has been a stellar month for the junior, finishing with 27 points, 19 of which came in the second half.
Iowa State struggled to get things going early in the second half, and Daniels put them to the sword with 14:23 remaining, when he hit his second 3-pointer of the game to give the Huskies a 49-32 lead.
"My teammates were talking to me," Daniels said, "and it would never have been possible if it wasn't for my teammates looking for me, and coaching staff getting me the ball in the right positions. And I was able to knock down my shots tonight. And this post season, just giving it my all, just for my teammates and UConn, and UConn Nation."
UConn looked to be in position to run away with the game midway through the second half, but this is March, and after the season they had, the Cyclones were not going to roll over and die.
The Big 12 Tournament champions stormed back, scratching and clawing their way back over the 12 minutes after Daniels' three.
For most of the game, Dustin Hogue carried the Cyclones, finishing with 34 points. But near the end of that 12-minute stretch, DeAndre Kane and Naz Long began to heat up.
With 2:24 remaining, 11 seconds after the last media timeout, Long buried a three off a pass from Kane, and what was once a 17-point lead had withered down to four.
But it was obvious that the Cyclones missed the inside presence of Georges Niang, who fractured a bone in his right foot in Iowa State's first game of the tournament. With Niang out, the Huskies were able to focus in on Melvin Ejim, the Big 12 Player of the Year, who finished with only seven points.
"You kind of have to get on his toes early in the game," Giffey said, "and I think we did a good job of that."
UConn was able to hold off Iowa State's late run, and as a result, the Huskies, so often the postseason magicians at Madison Square Garden, will play in their 11th Elite Eight Sunday afternoon, in front of what should be another pro-UConn crowd in the heart of Manhattan, with a trip to a fifth Final Four - a third in six years - on the line.
"Just being out there with that crowd and with that UConn Nation behind you," Boatright said, "when you're tired or you just feel like you're dead, that intensity and that cheering, it helps you get to those loose balls, those 50/50 balls or those rebounds that you need."
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