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The University of Connecticut Huskies defeated the Michigan State Spartans today in the East Regional Final, 60-54. They are the first No. 7 seed to reach the Final Four since the NCAA expanded the tournament to 64 teams in 1985.
Madison Square Garden was rocking, and the atmosphere felt like a Connecticut home game all afternoon.
UConn guard Shabazz Napier finished with 25 points, 4 assists and 6 rebounds. He also went perfect from the charity stripe (9 for 9). That free-throw line was a huge factor, as the Huskies went an incredible 21 of 22 on the day, according to CBS Sports. Michigan State was 7 for 8 at the line, but the sheer difference in attempts was the story.
UConn’s attacking style of play earned those free chances. How many times do we see free throws decide a game between two teams on this level? Often. The more aggressive team won today.
The Huskies found themselves down nine points in the second half. But the kid from the inner city in Boston willed his way to 17 of his 25 points.
Napier has carried this team in such a Kemba Walker-like way that it’s scary to think about.
In 2011, Walker went on a run that very few in history can match. He willed his team through the Big East on the way to earning the school’s third national championship, and Jim Calhoun’s last title as head coach.
That year, the Huskies went 11-0 in postseason play through the Big East Tournament and NCAA Tournament, according to Sports Illustrated.
UConn's run this time around is made even more shocking by the departure of Calhoun and the fact that the team was a No. 7 seed this time, as opposed to No. 3 in 2011. Very few picked them, but they didn’t care. Kevin Ollie has assumed the role that Calhoun built, and Walker has passed the torch to Napier.
The Huskies now head to Arlington, Texas for the Final Four, to take on the tournament’s No. 1 overall seeded team in the Florida Gators.