- Associated Press - Monday, March 31, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - A veteran guard carried UConn to the Final Four.

Shabazz Napier watched Kemba Walker do it three years ago. It was his turn Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

Napier scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half of a 60-54 upset of fourth-seeded Michigan State. The East Regional’s most outstanding player hit three huge free throws with 30.6 seconds left.

The Huskies (30-8) rallied from a nine-point second-half deficit to become the first No. 7 seed to reach the Final Four since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They rode the home-court advantage of the thousands of UConn fans who made the short trip.


“It’s kind of unfair,” Napier said with a grin.

He could have transferred when academic sanctions barred the Huskies from the NCAA tournament his junior season. But Napier wanted to pay back the school for the joy of that national title his freshman year, for his struggles as a sophomore.

Did he ever.

Second-year coach Kevin Ollie is now 4-0 in the NCAA tournament at his alma mater after replacing mentor Jim Calhoun. Afterward, Ollie told Calhoun: “Thank you for believing in me.”

The undersized Huskies matched Michigan State’s physical play box-out for box-out, holding the Spartans (29-9) to just six offensive rebounds and six points in the paint.

“We wanted to throw the first punch, and I think we did that,” Ollie said.

UConn dared Michigan State to shoot 3-pointers, and the Spartans nearly made enough, going 11 for 29 from behind the arc. Gary Harris was 4 for 9 on 3s for 22 points, but his teammates were a combined 10 for 32 from the floor.

Michigan State’s seniors become the first four-year players recruited by Tom Izzo to fail to make a Final Four.

Trailing 51-49 with more than two minutes left, the Spartans had a chance to tie or take the lead. Senior Adreian Payne threw the ball away, and Napier drilled a jumper on the other end.

After Payne’s free throws cut the deficit back to two, Keith Appling was whistled for a foul - the fifth on Michigan State’s other senior starter - for contact with Napier on a 3-point attempt. Napier extended the lead to 56-51, and after Travis Trice missed a 3, Phillip Nolan slipped free for a dunk that clinched the victory.

“He’s a winner, and he willed his team to victory,” Harris said of Napier.

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