UConn, Kentucky bound for Final Four


NEW YORK — In 2011, Connecticut rode an incredible individual stretch from their point guard all the way to a national championship. Three years later, the Huskies are back in the Final Four, and in no small part due to the efforts of their current floor general. Shabazz Napier put up 25 points and six rebounds while carrying Connecticut in the second half, and the Huskies punched their ticket to North Texas with a 60-54 decision over Michigan State in the East Region final in front of a pro- Huskies crowd at Madison Square Garden.

Seventeen of Napier’s points came after halftime, and seven were amassed during a pivotal 12-0 run that turned UConn’s nine-point deficit into a 35-32 lead with under 12 minutes left. The senior standout later sealed the Huskies’ advancement by sinking all three free throws after being fouled by Keith Appling on a long-distance attempt, giving UConn a 56-51 lead with 30.6 seconds left. DeAndre Daniels added 12 points and eight rebounds for the Huskies (30-8), who became only the second-ever No. 7 seed to reach the Final Four. They certainly earned the trip, knocking off second-seeded Villanova and third-seeded Iowa State prior to downing the Big Ten Tournament champion Spartans.

Kentucky 75, Michigan 72

INDIANAPOLIS — Aaron Harrison and the Kentucky Wildcats proved once again they’ve finally come of age, advancing to the Final Four with a thrilling 75-72 victory over Michigan on the freshman guard’s tie- breaking 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds remaining. Harrison’s incredibly clutch basket gave the rookie-dominated Wildcats a surprise Midwest Region title as an eighth seed, in which they knocked off a trio of 2013 Final Four participants to get there.

Kentucky (28-10) earned a trip to the Elite Eight with wins over previously unbeaten Wichita State and defending national champ Louisville, then punched its ticket to the national semis by outlasting the 2013 runner-up Wolverines in a down-to-the-wire nail- biter. Harrison scored nine of his 12 points in the final 4 1/2 minutes, with three other members of Kentucky’s heralded freshman class also coming up with key contributions. Julius Randle racked up 16 points and 11 rebounds, James Young had 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting and Marcus Lee came through with 10 points and eight rebounds in an extended role. Lee, who came in averaging just 2.0 points and 1.2 rebounds per game, helped offset the absence of starting center Willie Cauley-Stein, sidelined by a sprained ankle sustained in Friday’s win over Louisville in the Sweet 16.

Michigan’s Nik Stauskas topped all scorers with 24 points, but his desperation 3- point try from halfcourt at the buzzer landed well off the mark, leaving the Wolverines (28-9) just short in their bid for a second straight Final Four berth.

 

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