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UConn men advance to the Final Four

Updated 10:36 pm, Sunday, March 30, 2014

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  • Connecticut's Niels Giffey,  right, drives past Michigan State's Gary Harris in the first half of a  regional final at the NCAA college basketball tournament on Sunday,  March 30, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

    Connecticut's Niels Giffey, right, drives past Michigan State's Gary Harris in the first half of a regional final at the NCAA college basketball tournament on Sunday, March 30, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

 

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NEW YORK -- Phil Nolan slammed one home with 15 seconds left and that all but sealed UConn's trip to Texas.

Shabazz Napier scored 25 points and the Huskies made 18 straight free throws in the second half to stun No. 4 seed Michigan State 60-54 in the East Regional championship Sunday afternoon in front of 19,499 fans at Madison Square Garden. The Huskies (30-8) advance to their fifth Final Four, but first under head coach Kevin Ollie. It's their third Final Four in the last six years.

DeAndre Daniels added 12 points and Ryan Boatright 11 for UConn, which will play Florida Saturday (6:09, TBS) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Huskies are only the second No. 7 seed to reach the Final Four (Virginia, 1984).

Gary Harris scored 22 points for MSU (29-9), which failed to reach the Final Four for only the second time in coach Tom Izzo's eight trips to the Elite 8.

The Spartans led 25-21 at the half and pushed it to 32-23 on back-to-back 3-pointers from Adreian Payne with 16:32 left in the second half, prompting a timeout by Ollie.

The Huskies then answered with a 23-7 run that Ryan Boatright capped off with a 3-pointer to give them a 49-39 lead with 6:27 to play. UConn made 6 of 8 shots over that stretch, with two 3-pointers from Napier.

But MSU would not back down, breaking off a 10-2 run -- with 3-pointers from Denzel Valetine and Gary Harris to close within 51-49 with 2:35 left. But Napier pushed it back to 53-49 with a jumper, which tied him for fourth all-time at UConn in points with Ray Allen at 1,922.

UConn shot 45 percent in the second half (9-for-20), but really capitalized at the foul line where they finished 21-for-22 for the game. They shot over 90 percent from the line in three of their four NCAA games.

For the opening five minutes, the Huskies had everything falling their way as they built a 12-2 lead. DeAndre Daniels had five points, Boatright four and Napier added a three over the stretch.

After Harris' basket, the Spartans went 0-for-7 before Harris scored again with 11:47 left to make it 12-5 UConn. The Huskies failed to take advantage of the lull because they went 0-for-5 with two turnovers after taking a 10-point lead.

The problem for the Huskies was after that 5-for-8 start from the field, they went 3-for-21 the rest of the half as MSU outscored them 23-9.

The Spartans used an 8-3 run to take its first lead, with 3:28 left at 22-21. MSU was 5-for-16 from the perimeter in the half and 37.5 percent from the field overall. Harris had 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting.

UConn finished the half at 27.6 percent (8-for-29) despite an 8-2 edge in paint points. The Huskies also trailed on the boards 20-18. Napier led the team with eight points and Daniels had five, but failed to score in the final 15 minutes.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: Napier. Never afraid to take a big shot, he scored 17 of his game-high 25 points in the second half to lead his team to the Final Four. He was named the Regional Most Outstanding Player.

KEYS TO VICTORY: The Huskies were 21-for-22 from the foul line, including 18-for-18 in the second half. Nolan played exceptional defense on Payne, who scored just 13 points.UConn outscored MSU 16-6 in the paint and turned 16 Spartan turnovers into 18 points.

QUOTABLE: "We're physical, too. Don't get it mixed up. We are predators out there." -- Ollie

"We got what we deserved today. I tried to tell these guys that, when you get to the tournament, you got to bring it every second. And today Connecticut did, and we just kind of weren't as good as we have been." -- Izzo

WORTH NOTING: UConn AD Warde Manuel is jet setting back and forth for the men's and women's tournaments in New York and Lincoln, Neb., respectively. After attending Friday's game at Madison Square Garaden, Manuel flew out for the women's game against BYU. Manuel was back at the Garden for the UConn-MSU game. He planned to leave Monday morning for UConn women's Elite Eight game against Texas A&M. ¦ With Sunday's game, Napier became the all-time leader in games played for the Huskies (141). He came in tied with Kevin Freeman at 140. ¦. Among the celebrities and athletes in attendance were Celtics GM Danny Ainge, former Husky and current Detroit Piston Andre Drummond, Richard Hamilton and MSU products Magic Johnson, Mateen Cleaves and Plaxico Burress.

UP NEXT: Final 4: Saturday vs. Florida, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas (6:09, TBS, TNT, truTV)

-- WILLIAM S. PAXTON