The Connecticut Huskies were playing in the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden, a venue they’d made synonymous with winning as members of the Big East Conference, to the tune of seven tournament titles. Friday’s game was no different for the Huskies, as they took down the Iowa State Cyclones, 81-76, to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2011, when they won the national title.
In what was clearly a pro-Huskies crowd, the Cyclones did nothing to silence the roar early as UConn rolled out to a 10-4 advantage leading into the first media timeout, led by three Iowa State turnovers and a pair of three-pointers by Shabazz Napier. An 8-2 run by the Cyclones knotted it at 12 apiece before a block by DeAndre Daniels led to a race out three by UConn’s Ryan Boatright to give the Huskies a three point edge, a lead they’d extend throughout the remainder of the first half.
The pace was frenetic but Iowa State continued to take quick shots without running any offensive sets as the Huskies limited the Cyclones to a lot of one-and-dones.
The Cyclones held UConn scoreless for over three minutes but only tallied four points of their own. Daniels, the third scoring option the Huskies so desperately need, broke the drought and scored the next seven points to extend the lead to 10 with just under three minutes remaining, a margin they would maintain as UConn led 36-26 heading into the break.
The beginning of the second half was no different as Daniels picked up right where he left off, netting the first six points for UConn and giving the Huskies a 42-28 lead, forcing ISU head coach Fred Hoiberg to call for a timeout.
The lead hovered around 10 to 14 points throughout the second half until a DeAndre Kane three-pointer brought the Cyclones to within seven, the closest they’d been since the 4:53 mark of the first half, and capped an 11-2 Iowa State run. You could smell yet another comeback for the Cyclones, who had come back eight times this seasons from a double-digit deficit.
Napier picked up his third foul of the game with 2:35 left in the game on an offensive foul and Naz Long immediately made them pay by draining a three, but Niels Giffey answered with a corner three of his own.
UConn nursed a 5-point lead with a minute remaining before a forced shot by Napier gave the Cyclones another glimmer of hope. They took it down the floor, forced a three and Dustin Hogue was called for a foul going for the rebound, sending Napier to the line with 47.8 ticks left, where he calmly sank both, pushing the lead to 72-65.
UConn sealed the game by going 11 for 12 from the line in the final minute and made 20 of 22 for the game.
Monte Morris limited Napier to just one field goal in the final 20 minutes but it was Daniels who stole the show, finishing with 27 points and 10 rebounds. If he can continue to provide a legit third scoring option for the Huskies, they’re tough to beat.
Hogue, a Yonkers native, led all scorers with 34 points and was there every time the Cyclones needed a bucket.
Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie had the quote of the tournament — “There’s no better place to plant seed than in a Garden.”
The Huskies will look to plant another on Sunday as they’ll take the winner of the Virginia and Michigan State game.