The UConn Huskies appeared to be up against it when they met streaking Michigan State in the East Regional Finals at New York City's Madison Square Garden.
The Spartans had won the Big Ten title in impressive fashion after an ordinary regular season, and had continued to climb the ladder in their first three NCAA tournament games. As Tom Izzo contemplated getting his team back to the Final Four, it seemed like seventh-seeded UConn was just one more hurdle to leap over.
The Huskies were talented, quick, athletic and resourceful, but did Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels really have a chance against the explosiveness and depth of the Big Ten-tested Spartans?
While most figured that Michigan State was good enough to survive, UConn coach Kevn Ollie was undeterred. He knew that his trio of stars would push Michigan State to the limit, and the Spartans just might have a very difficult time coming up with an answer for the quicksilver Napier.
That's just how it played out. Napier saved his best for the second half as the Huskies ralled back from a 32-23 second-half deficit and recorded a 60-54 victory. Napier scored 25 points in the game, and 17 of them came in the second half. He was also perfect from the free-throw line, making all nine of his attempts.
Napier's quickness and ball-handling ability are his most notable assets, but his toughness may have been the key factor in this game. With the score tied at 32-32 in the second half, Napier took a shot in the nose from Michigan State's Gary Harris, and he left the court bleeding heavily. Napier was back on the court a minute later, and he was pushing his team to the lead with a new level of aggressiveness.
"When coach looks at me a certain way, I just know I've got to be more aggressive," Napier told the media (h/t CBS Sports) after the game.
Napier followed his coach's non-verbal instructions perfectly, and that allowed the Huskies to survive and advance.