Napier propels UConn into Final Four; Kentucky, Florida, Wisconsin also earn berths

UConn's Shabazz Napier shoots the ball over Michigan State's Branden Dawson during the second half of the East Regional final of the NCAA Tourney Sunday at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Adam Hunger | USA Today Sports
UConn's Shabazz Napier shoots the ball over Michigan State's Branden Dawson during the second half of the East Regional final of the NCAA Tourney Sunday at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Posted March 30, 2014, at 7:41 p.m.

NEW YORK — Shabazz Napier never wavered about transferring out of Connecticut, despite a disappointing sophomore year and a junior season when the school was ineligible for the NCAA postseason.

Napier, the Huskies’ senior point guard, was rewarded for his commitment, scoring a game-high 25 points to lead UConn into the Final Four with a 60-54 win over Michigan State in the East Regional final on Sunday before 19,499 at Madison Square

The Huskies secured their fifth trip to the Final Four. They will play Florida, a team that UConn beat 65-64 on Dec. 2.

Sophomore guard Gary Harris led the fourth-seeded Spartans (29-9) with 22 points and senior forward Adreian Payne chipped in with 13.

The 6-foot-1 Napier was named the East Regional’s Most Outstanding Player. He averaged 23.2 points in the four tournament games and was a combined 14 of 15 from the line in the East Regional semifinals and final.

“I felt I didn’t play to my capabilities that (sophomore) year and I wanted to show my teammates and the fans that I’m going to come back strong and come back better,” he said. “That’s the reason why I didn’t transfer. I felt like I owed Connecticut something.”

Napier was particularly effective late in the game, scoring five of the Huskies’ final seven points.

Payne sank two free throws with 57.6 seconds to play to bring Michigan State to within 53-51, but Napier was fouled by Michigan State guard Keith Appling attempting to shoot a 3-pointer on the Huskies’ next possession. Napier sank all three shots with 50 seconds left for a 56-51 cushion.

Appling, who was bothered by a sore wrist all season, fouled out on the play.

“I told him (Appling) I didn’t think he fouled him (Napier),” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I thanked him (Appling) for his four years. He’s been through a lot this year and never got back to the guy he was in the first half. I just felt for him.”

Payne scored five straight points on a 3-pointer and a mid-range jumper to extend the Spartans’ lead to 32-23 3:28 into the second half.

Two free throws from Napier tied it at 32-32 with 12:38 to play and a traditional three-point play from forward DeAndre Daniels gave the Huskies a 35-32 edge with 11:47 remaining.

A layup from Michigan State forward Branden Dawson cut the UConn lead to 37-36 with 9:40 to go, but the Huskies used a 12-3 run to extend their lead to 49-39 with 6:20 left.

A driving runner from Appling, his first points of the game, cut the Huskies’ lead to 51-49 with 2:40 left, but Napier countered with a fall-away jumper to make it 53-49 with 1:24 on the clock.

“Coach (Kevin Ollie) told us to keep our composure,” Napier said. “They made their run and it was time for us to make ours. And when coach looks at me a certain way, I just know I got to be more aggressive and I got to open shots when my teammates got me the ball and we just kept running.”

Harris deposited two consecutive 3-pointers to provide Michigan State with its first lead of the first half, 22-21, with 3:33 remaining and guard Denzel Valentine’s trey from the right elbow with 23 seconds left allowed the Spartans to take a 25-21 halftime lead.

UConn missed its last seven shots from the field in the first half, three by Napier, who scored eight points in the opening 20 minutes.

The Spartans were plagued by 16 turnovers, one shy of their season high. The Huskies took advantage, scoring 18 points off the miscues.

“We looked tired to me,” Izzo said. “Maybe the whole season wore on us. I know it wasn’t anything they did on purpose, but it looked like we were a little bit fatigued.

“We sure tried to do things the right way.”

Florida 62, Dayton 52

Scottie Wilbekin scored 14 of his 23 points in the first half as the Gators upended the Flyers in the NCAA tournament South Regional Saturday night in Memphis, Tenn., to reach the Final Four for the first time since 2007.

Patric Young added 12 points and four blocked shots for top-seeded Florida (36-2), which advances to face Connecticut in the national semifinals. Michael Frazier II scored 10 points as the Gators stretched their school-record winning streak to 30.

Dyshawn Pierre scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half for 11th-seeded Dayton (26-11), which was trying to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1967. Devin Oliver added 12 points on four 3-pointers but the Flyers posted their lowest-scoring effort of the season.

Kentucky 75, Michigan 72

Aaron Harrison drained the decisive 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds to lift the Wildcats over the Wolverines in the NCAA tournament Midwest regional final at Indianapolis.

Harrison made four 3-pointers in the final eight-plus minutes for all 12 of his points as eighth-seeded Kentucky (28-10) advances to the Final Four and will face Wisconsin in next Saturday’s national semifinals. Julius Randle had 16 points and 11 rebounds, James Young scored 13 points and Marcus Lee added 10.

Nik Stauskas scored 24 points for second-seeded Michigan (28-9) but his last-second midcourt 3-pointer was off the mark. Glenn Robinson III added 14 points and Jordan Morgan had 11 for the Wolverines, who were attempting to reach the Final Four for the second straight season.

Wisconsin 64, Arizona 63 (OT)

Frank Kaminsky posted 28 points and 11 rebounds as the Badgers edged the Wildcats in an overtime thriller in Anaheim, Calif., to win the West regional and advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2000.

In this year’s only Elite Eight matchup featuring a region’s top two seeds, the top-seeded Wildcats and No. 2 Badgers did not disappoint with Kaminsky leading the way on 11-of-20 shooting, including three 3-pointers. Kaminsky scored six points in overtime and Traevon Jackson finished with 10 points for Wisconsin (30-7), which will face Midwest regional champion Kentucky in Saturday’s national semifinal.

Nick Johnson scored 16 points to lead Arizona (33-5), which had three chances to win in the final 10 seconds, the final one coming after a lengthy replay review gave the ball to the Wildcats with 2.3 seconds left, only to have Johnson’s final shot come just after the buzzer. Kaleb Tarczewski chipped in 12 points and Aaron Gordon grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds for the Wildcats, who were trying to reach the Final Four for the first time since 2001.

 

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