Head coach Kevin Ollie and the UConn Huskies have done the improbable. Ollie led the No. 7-seeded Huskies over the No. 4-seeded Michigan State Spartans on Sunday in Madison Square Garden by a score of 60-54.
The win lands the Huskies in the Final Four. Sporting News on Twitter helps to put UConn's journey to the national semifinal into perspective:
Making fun of a GIF that went viral after the team's win over Iowa State, Ollie asks someone to make sure this accomplishment isn't a dream, per George Colli of NBC:
Kevin Ollie: "I don't know if I'm dreaming...slap me so I know I'm not dreaming." #UConn— George Colli (@GeorgeColli) March 30, 2014
The tournament's top overall seed awaits the Huskies, as UConn will face off with the surging Florida Gators.
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The Gators downed the upstart Dayton Flyers 62-52 on Saturday night, which marked Florida's 30th win in a row. However, the team's last loss came to UConn on a last-second shot by Huskies star Shabazz Napier on Dec. 2.
We'll soon find out if the Huskies simply have the Gators' number.
In the second Elite Eight game on Sunday, the No. 8-seeded Kentucky Wildcats continued to show their rapid maturation. The freshman-led squad knocked off the No. 2-seeded Michigan Wolverines in a 75-72 thriller.
BIG BLUE NATION REJOICE! Kentucky is going to its 3rd Final Four in last 4 years, 16th trip in school history. pic.twitter.com/C5BTle28s0— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 30, 2014
The Wildcats have gone from an up-and-down talented bunch of underachievers to perhaps the most dangerous team in the country.
Nicole Auerbach of USA Today talks about Kentucky's rise:
Considering Kentucky's regular season, it's incredibly impressive 'Cats are going to Final Four.— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) March 30, 2014
The Wisconsin Badgers will provide the opposition for Kentucky in the national semifinal.
Let's take a closer look at how the Huskies and Wildcats earned a spot in the Final Four.
Spartans' Miscues and UConn Free-Throw Efficiency the Difference
UConn simply outworked and executed better than Michigan State. The Spartans committed 16 turnovers in the game and seemed to come apart at the seams, falling to the Huskies 60-54.
Uncharacteristically, the Spartans players could be seen bickering on the court and getting very little out of their offense.
The Huskies were powered by the clutch shooting of Napier and the energy of Ryan Boatright.
Napier scored 25 points and made several big shots down the stretch. When the game was over, Jon Rothstein and Doug Gottlieb of CBS Sports had high praise for the Huskies senior:
Shabazz Napier has just cemented his legacy as one of the best players in UConn history. Took a team on his back to the Final Four.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 30, 2014
Shabazz is the real deal, completely under control of everything, can get a shot whenever he wants for himself or others— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) March 30, 2014
Boatright had only 11 points, but he was very active defensively by tallying four steals and keeping the Spartans guards uncomfortable on the perimeter.
Both teams did well from the free-throw line, but the volume was clearly in the Huskies' favor. UConn knocked down 21 of 22 attempts.
Michigan State, meanwhile, made 7-of-8 attempts.
In the NCAA tournament, the Huskies have converted 81 of 92 attempts from the line, which is clearly a significant advantage.
Even with the large disparity in free-throw attempts, the Spartans had their chances to win this game. After falling behind 12-2 early, Michigan State put together a run that saw the favorites hold a 25-21 halftime lead.
The advantage grew to nine early in the second half, but the Huskies came storming back.
A 12-0 run that began with a Napier three with 16:18 left resulted in a UConn lead. It was an advantage they would never relinquish.
On paper, it would appear that the Gators have the advantage in the national semifinal. But UConn has been proving doubters wrong all tournament. Could it have one more surprise win left?
Kentucky's Inside Edge and Clutch Shooting Dooms Michigan
Coming into the game, the Wolverines were the team known for their great three-point shooting. On Sunday, Kentucky made all the big shots from downtown.
For the game, the Wildcats made 7 of 11 threes, while Michigan hit on 7 of 18 attempts from long range.
Specifically, Aaron Harrison has his clutch meter to capacity.
After beginning the game 0-of-4 from the field, Harrison knocked down four huge three pointers in the final 8:08 of regulation.
The last one came with the game tied at 72 and just 3.2 seconds left on the clock. He nailed it in the face of Caris LeVert, who is one of the best perimeter defenders in the nation and who arguably could not have defended the shot any better.
Without pause, Harrison raised up and drilled what would be the game winner with LeVert's hand in his face. ESPN's Mike Greenberg gave credit where it was due in acknowledging Harrison's awesome performance.
Say what you want about coaching (and everyone will) #Kentucky won because kids hit unreal shots. Cal didn't win that game, Harrison did.— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) March 30, 2014
Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas had a chance to send the game into overtime for the Wolverines, but his half-court heave was off target.
Stauskas did have 24 points in a losing effort, but it's doubtful that will be much consolation for him.
Will Kentucky keep it going against Wisconsin?
In support of Harrison, Julius Randle had a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Aaron Harrison's twin brother, Andrew, had eight points and six assists while struggling from the field (3-of-12 shooting).
Another player who was huge for Kentucky in the first half was Marcus Lee. He was a terror on the glass, and though he isn't known for his scoring, he had 10 points off the bench and added eight boards. Lee and Randle helped stoke Kentucky to the 35-24 advantage in rebounds.
Kentucky will face Wisconsin on Saturday for a chance to advance to the national championship.
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