Four powerhouse programs were featured on Sunday in the final two contests of the 2014 NCAA tournament's Elite Eight, and as you'd expect, the action was spectacular.
Connecticut (No. 7) took down Michigan State (No. 4) to get things kicked off with a bang in the early game, while John Calipari's band of freshmen phenoms (Kentucky, No. 8) knocked off Michigan (No. 2) in dramatic fashion later in the afternoon.
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|Connecticut (No. 7)||Michigan State (No. 4)||60-54|
|Kentucky (No. 8)||Michigan (No. 2)||75-72|
Final Four Schedule
|Date||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV||Live Stream|
|Sat, April 5||Florida (No. 1) vs. Connecticut (No. 7)||6:09 p.m.||TBS||March Madness Live|
|Sat, April 5||Wisconsin (No. 2) vs. Kentucky (No. 8)||8:49 p.m.||TBS||March Madness Live|
UConn Punches Ticket To Final Four Over Michigan State, 60-54
Tom Izzo knew this would be a tight game.
“We have got more experience inside. They have probably got a little more outside,” Izzo said before the game, per Kieran Darcy of ESPN.com. “I think for the most part, both of us got a decent amount of experience to be playing in an Elite Eight game, and I think that’s what should make it a great, great game.”
Heading into this contest, a defensive struggle was expected, but points were even tougher to come by than a turkey at the supermarket on Thanksgiving afternoon.
Surprisingly, Michigan State fell into an early hole, with UConn jumping out to an 12-2 lead before Izzo's squad eventually woke from its slumber.
Finally, with just three-and-a-half minutes remaining in the first half, the Spartans took their first lead of the afternoon after Gary Harris drained two three-point shots in a row to put his team up by one point.
Izzo liked what he saw, as shown by Spartan Basketball:
Those quick six points were quickly forgotten, however, as defense once again reigned supreme in the final minutes of the first half and throughout the second.
With just over seven minutes remaining in the second half, the Huskies had a seven-point lead, thanks to a tremendous 23-7 run, as NCAA March Madness revealed:
Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports thought the Spartans looked demoralized at this point in the proceedings:
Pretty amazing. UConn is just demoralizing Michigan State at this point.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) March 30, 2014
Then UConn added three more quick points, just to prove Forde's point, to go up by 10 with six minutes to play in the game. Not surprisingly, Michigan State answered with two threes to pull to within four points.
By the time the two-minute mark approached, Michigan State was down by just two points, and the nail-biter continued to shred the nerves of fans, players and coaches alike.
Shabazz Napier put the Huskies ahead by four once again with a gutsy shot as the clock neared the one-minute mark, prompting this comment from Harry Cicma of NBC 4 New York:
Sometimes leaders decide to step up when the chips are down in college sports... Shabazz Napier is showing a lot of heart for UConn...— Harry Cicma (@HarryCicma) March 30, 2014
Connecticut never looked back, winning by the final score of 60-54.
Napier was stellar all game long, finishing with a game-high 25 points, six rebounds, four assists and one steal to lead the Huskies, which kept the Spartans from reaching the Final Four for the second year in a row.
A sterner test awaits Napier and the Huskies in the Final Four, as a date with No. 1 seed Florida looms. The Gators feature one of the nation's top defensive squads, and there is no weakness to report on the team's roster.
That said, the last team to beat Florida was, you guessed it, Connecticut, back on Dec. 2, as Josh Newman reminds us:
It's going to UConn-Florida in the Final Four. Last team to beat Florida? UConn, back on Dec. 2.— Josh Newman (@Joshua_Newman) March 30, 2014
It's going to be a thrilling matchup that should live up to any and all hype surrounding it, and with a trip to the championship on the line, there's a chance we'll see an instant classic next week.
Kentucky Takes Down Michigan In Dramatic Fashion
John Calipari's Wildcats have displayed a penchant for pulling off dramatic victories throughout the 2014 NCAA tournament, and Sunday's win over Michigan was no different.
The game was a see-saw battle from start to finish, as neither team could pull away until the game's final moments.
Aaron Harrison was the hero of the night for Kentucky, draining four three-point shots in the game's final eight minutes—including the game-winner with three seconds left on the clock.
Incredibly, those buckets were Harrison's only scores of the night, as he finished with 12 points.
To nobody's surprise, freshman phenom Julius Randle led the way for the Wildcats with 16 points and 11 rebounds, continuing his remarkable tourney run. Nik Stauskas led all scorers with 24, thanks in large part to 10 made free throws on 11 attempts.
For his efforts, Randle was named Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional, via Rivals' Brett Dawson:
Julius Randle Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional. Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Aaron Harrison and (yep_ Marcus Lee on all-region— Brett Dawson (@BDawsonRivals) March 30, 2014
After Kentucky's disappointing regular season, many believed this supremely talented young squad wouldn't have a puncher's chance of making it to the Final Four. After the dramatic 75-72 victory over mighty Michigan, however, the Wildcats might just be the scariest team left in the tournament.
Perhaps Yahoo! Sports' Brad Evans said it best when referring to the masterful job Calipari has done to bring his group of super-freshmen together at just the right time for this run:
Potential realized. No matter if you love or hate Calipari have to tip your cap to the coaching job he's done in the postseason. Remarkable.— Brad Evans (@YahooNoise) March 30, 2014
Wisconsin proved just as scrappy in its win over Arizona, however, and the 'Cats will need to continue operating like a well-oiled machine in the Final Four to advance to the National Championship Game.
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