UConn and Kentucky Round Out Final Four Field


by Bill DiFilippo

The Final Four is now set.

Two Cinderella stories—Connecticut and Kentucky—advanced to the Final Four yesterday, where they will take on Florida and Wisconsin, respectively.

The No. 7 Huskies advanced in the East regional final against No. 4 Michigan State, taking down Sparty, 60-54. The loss was historic, because this means that Michigan State’s outgoing senior class is the only class to never make a Final Four during Tom Izzo’s tenure in East Lansing.

Per usual, UConn was led by its star guard Shabazz Napier. The senior put up 25 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists against the Spartans, and went 9-9 from the free throw line. While Michigan State’s Gary Harris had a big game—22 points—the rest of the Spartans struggled. Adreian Payne scored 13 points on 4-14 shooting, Branden Dawson had 5 points and Keith Appling fouled out after only 28 minutes.

UConn raced out to an early 12-2 lead on the Spartans, but Michigan State fought back, taking a 25-21 lead into the half. Izzo and co. extended its lead to as many as 10 points with 16:34 left in the second half. However, at that time, UConn began mounting its comeback.

The Huskies went on a 26-7 run to take a 49-39 lead with 6:30 left in the game. While Michigan State made it close, cutting the Huskies’ lead to 53-51 with 57 seconds left, UConn closed the game on a 7-3 run to thwart the Spartan comeback.

While the first game was exciting, it was nothing compared to the second matchup of the day. The No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats established themselves as the kings of the Midwest bracket with a thrilling victory over No. 2 Michigan, 75-72 thanks to a massive three by freshman guard Aaron Harrison with three seconds left.

The first half consisted of both teams making big runs. Michigan jumped on Kentucky, leading 14-6 early on. However, Kentucky responded with a 10-4 run, and after the teams exchanged baskets, the Wolverines went on a 12-3 run of its own. The Wildcats ended the half on a 15-5 run, and at the half, the teams were tied at 37.

The second half was more back and forth, as neither team led by more than 5 points during the game’s final frame. The two teams went back and forth all half, with neither team able to put the other away until the very end, when Harrison—who had 12 points on the game—made the biggest shot of his life, which prompted this response from Kentucky freshman Dakari Johnson to give one of the best quotes ever:

Kentucky was led by star freshman Julius Randle, who went off for 16 points and 11 rebounds. James Young (12 points) and little-used freshman Marcus Lee (10 points, 8 rebounds) also had major contributions for John Calipari’s team. Michigan’s Nik Stauskus led all scorers with 24 points, while Glenn Robinson III pitched in 14.

The Final Four games will be played on Saturday in Arlington, TX. Florida and UConn will tip off at 6:09 p.m., while Wisconsin’s showdown with Kentuck will take place after. Both games will be aired on TBS.