UConn and Kentucky Fill Out Final 4 Bracket
New York — Shabazz Napier scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half, and UConn beat Michigan State 60-54 to return to the Final Four a year after the Huskies were barred from the NCAA tournament.
Napier, the East Regional’s most outstanding player, hit three huge free throws with 37.6 seconds left at Madison Square Garden to carry UConn to the Final Four just as Kemba Walker did in Napier’s freshman year.
The Huskies (30-8) rallied from a nine-point second-half deficit to become the first No. 7 seed to reach the Final Four since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Fourth-seeded Michigan State’s seniors become the first four-year players recruited by Tom Izzo to fail to reach the Final Four. Gary Harris led the Spartans (29-9) with 22 points.
The undersized Huskies matched Michigan State’s physical play box-out for box-out, holding the Spartans to just six offensive rebounds and six points in the paint. UConn dared Michigan State to shoot 3-pointers, and the Spartans nearly made enough, going 11 for 29 from behind the arc.
Trailing 51-49 with more than two minutes left, Michigan State had a chance to tie or take the lead. But Adreian Payne fumbled the ball away, and Napier drilled a jumper on the other end.
After Payne hit a pair of free throws to pull the Spartans back within two, Keith Appling was called for a foul on Napier’s 3-point attempt. The senior extended the lead to 56-51, and after Travis Trice missed a 3, Michigan State couldn’t get to UConn to foul. Phillip Nolan slipped free for a dunk that clinched the victory and had thousands of Huskies fans in the Garden leaping up and down.
UConn won its third national title in 2011, but the Huskies were ineligible for last year’s tournament because of previous low scores on the NCAA’s academic progress measure.
Ryan Boatright made four steals as UConn used its quickness to force 16 turnovers. DeAndre Daniels shut down Branden Dawson, who scored 24 points in Michigan State’s Sweet 16 win over top-seeded Virginia. Dawson attempted just three field goals, making one, to finish with five points.
The 6-foot-10, 245-pound Payne hit two long jumpers to put Michigan State up 32-23 less than four minutes into the second half. But Napier started driving, getting the bigger Appling in foul trouble and UConn back in the game.
After hitting four straight free throws to tie the score at 32 with 12:38 left, Napier was struck in the face by Gary Harris — the UConn guard was called for a foul on the play — and left the court with his nose gushing blood. He was back less than minute later when Daniels completed a three-point play to give the Huskies the lead for good.
Boatright hit a contested 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down to put UConn up 49-39 with less than seven minutes left. But the Spartans rallied behind their long-range shooting.
Kentucky 75, Michigan 72
Indianapolis — Aaron Harrison made a 3-pointer from NBA range with 2.3 seconds left Sunday to lift Kentucky and its freshmen over Michigan and to a trip to the Final Four.
After Harrison’s teammate, Julius Randle, inadvertently tipped in the tying shot on Michigan’s previous possession, the eighth-seeded Wildcats got the ball to the 6-foot-6 guard, whose twin brother, Andrew, is another of the five freshmen in Kentucky’s starting lineup.
Standing a good three feet behind the arc, Harrison elevated over Caris LeVert and took a bit of contact on the arm from the Michigan guard as he shot. No matter. The shot rattled in, and for the second straight game in the Midwest Regional, Harrison had the go-ahead points in a tense game for the Wildcats (28-10).
In this one, he scored all 12 of his points off four 3-pointers over the last 8:05.
“I hit a couple before that, so coach said to get the shot we were looking for,” Harrison said. “They put it in my hands and I wanted to deliver for them out there.”
Nik Stauskas missed a halfcourt heave at the buzzer for second-seeded Michigan (28-9), and moments later, Harrison was under a dog pile — or make that a puppy pile. This is the first all-freshman starting lineup to make the Final Four since another well-known group, the Fab Five of Michigan, did it in 1992.
“I’m gonna see everyone in Dallas this year,” coach John Calipari said, with his version of a Texas twang, as he addressed the crowd before the nets came down.
The Wildcats will play Wisconsin next Saturday outside of Big D.
Stauskas finished with 24 points for the Wolverines, who finished a win shy of their second straight Final Four.
Randle had 16 points and 11 rebounds for his 24th double-double and was named the region’s most outstanding player.
But he was just one of the freshmen stars for the Wildcats Sunday.
While Harrison was being completely shut down early, it was unheralded Marcus Lee keeping the Wildcats in the game.
Lee, one of the six McDonald’s All-American freshmen on Calipari’s roster, had scored a total of nine points since the beginning of January. But he got minutes that would have normally gone to the injured Willie Cauley-Stein, and finished with 10 points and eight rebounds. Eight of those points came on put-back dunks that were part of Kentucky’s 18 offensive rebounds.
Harrison’s first 3 gave Kentucky a 58-55 lead and was part of an 11-0 run that put the Wolverines in catch-up mode, behind 62-55 with 6:30 left.
They fought back, and during a nine-possession stretch of sublime basketball that covered more than four minutes, each team scored every time they got the ball.
The first stop in the sequence gave the Wolverines the ball with about a minute left, trailing 72-70.
Stauskas missed a layup and a 3-pointer and Derrick Walton then missed an open 3. But the fourth attempt went in with 31 seconds left and got credited to Jordan Morgan on a scramble under the basket, though it was Randle’s hand that tipped the ball in.
Calipari called a timeout. Michigan burned a foul. And the endgame started with 10 seconds left. The ball went to Harrison and it was clear he was going to take the shot. He spotted up from about 25 feet, and after he hit, he walked backward calmly before being hugged by Randle and Dakari Johnson.
Moments later, Kentucky was celebrating, preparing for the program’s 16th trip to college basketball’s biggest stage.