Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 60, #4 Michigan State 54Posted by Brian Otskey on March 30th, 2014
Brian Otskey (@botskey) is RTC’s NCAA East Regional correspondent.
Three key takeaways.
- Vintage Connecticut. Kevin Ollie only took over the Connecticut job last season but he has wasted no time in carrying on Jim Calhoun’s legacy of hard-nosed defense. The Huskies limited Michigan State to 39.1 percent shooting and, more importantly, kept them out of the paint and off the free throw line. It was a game of runs with Connecticut jumping out to an early lead, Michigan State firing back and the Huskies eventually closing the door. The Huskies did a great job limiting any dribble penetration by the Spartans and swarmed Adreian Payne any time he touched the ball deep in the post. In the end, it was consistent defense and a great game plan by Kevin Ollie and his players that carried them to the win.
- Michigan State couldn’t get anything inside. For the game, Michigan State was limited to six points in the paint. With Gary Harris (who had a great game) content to shoot jumpers and Keith Appling still bothered by a nagging injury, the Spartans got very little, if any, dribble penetration. When they looked for Payne in the post, he was double or even tripled teamed at times. After a great game against Virginia on Friday night, Branden Dawson (five points) was a non-factor against the physical Huskies. With Michigan State content on shooting jumpers (29 of its 46 shots were three pointers), it also had great difficulty getting to the free throw line. The inability to score inside and get to the line was Michigan State’s downfall in this game.
- The free throw line made the difference. Coming into the game, more focus was on the great perimeter shooting both teams featured. That proved not to be the deciding factor in any way as Michigan State was 15 percentage points better than Connecticut from deep. However, it was the free throw line that won this one for the Huskies. Connecticut made 21-of-22 free throws (95.5 percent) while Michigan State only made eight trips to the charity stripe. The Spartans, who entered today’s action ranked an abysmal No. 316 in free throw rate, simply shot too many jumpers and never adjusted to what the Huskies were doing defensively in the paint. With Appling’s injury still being a factor, Michigan State just could not get any dribble penetration and their half court offense looked rather stagnant. Give the Huskies credit for not fouling, too. They recorded only 12 fouls for the game.
Star of the Game: Shabazz Napier, Connecticut. The Huskies star player showed out on the big stage on Sunday afternoon. Napier scored 25 points and only turned the basketball over two times in leading the Huskies to the Final Four. He embraced the Garden stage and his leadership trickled down to the rest of his team, which played with supreme confidence against a venerable March powerhouse. Napier hit big shot after big shot, some that were highly contested. The ride that Napier has put Connecticut fans on has been phenomenal. As Bill Raftery would say, Napier has onions.
- “It’s a big family and that’s what coach created. I’m glad he passed me the baton.” – Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie on the culture of his program.
- “Our game plan was simple. We wanted to hit first.” – Ollie on his team’s hot start to the game.
- “I’m glad we’re not too far away from Madison Square Garden.” – Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier on the Huskies’ home court advantage.
- “I just wanted to limit his post up touches.” – Connecticut’s DeAndre Daniels on the defensive approach to Branden Dawson.
- “I think we got what we deserved today.” – Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo.
Sights and Sounds: The World’s Most Famous Arena was jazzed up for this regional final on a Sunday afternoon. A crowd of 19,499 was 80 percent in favor of Connecticut, never more obvious than when Mateen Cleaves and Richard Hamilton appeared back-to-back on the MSG jumbotron. Cleaves got a nice hand from the Spartans faithful, only to be drowned out the second time around by Huskies fans. Hamilton pumped up the crowd and was the recipient of a thunderous ovation. It felt like an old Big East Tournament with multiple chants of “U-C-O-N-N UConn! UConn! UConn!” all game long. Hopefully the NCAA tournament continues to come back to the Garden in the future.
What’s Next: The Huskies advance to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington where they will face Florida on Saturday in one national semifinal. Connecticut and Florida did play this season, with the Huskies winning by one point on December 2.