The seventh-seeded University of Connecticut Huskies scored a mild 77-65 March Madness upset of no. 2 seed Villanova Saturday in the tournament’s third round. UConn will now take its place in the familiar surroundings of the Sweet 16 for the seventeenth time in the program’s storied history. With three national championships, the Huskies are tied for sixth most all-time and have reached the Final 4 four times and the Elite 8 ten times.
After missing the postseason last year, second-year head coach Kevin Ollie is poised to take the next step and make a run to the Final Four. And with senior G Shabazz Napier leading the charge, Ollie just might have the necessary tools. The 6-1 slasher averaged 17.8 ppg and 4.9 apg, but what he has done lately is give UConn an inside track to a deep tournament run. Napier posted 24 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists against St. Joseph’s in the second round and 25 points, 5 boards and 3 assists against Villanova.
Other Huskies have also stepped up. In the March Madness overtime thriller against St. Joseph’s, four Connecticut players scored in double-figures. In addition to Napier, junior F DeAndre Daniels scored 18 points on 6 of 11 shooting, junior G Ryan Boatright had 17 points, and senior G Niels Giffey added 10 points. The Huskies shot 45.5 percent from the floor and 45.8 percent from downtown in the game, but really outdid themselves from the free throw line and connected on 18 of 20. It was more of the same in the round of 32 against Villanova, where UConn scored a mild upset of Villanova in this year’s version of march madness. Napier was the high man with 25 points and four other UConn players reached double-figures in scoring, including two players off the bench. The Huskies finished with numbers similar to their second round game as well, shooting 44.2 percent from the floor, 45.0 percent from outside the arc, while converting 18 of 24 from the free throw line.
Next up for the Huskies is the winner of sixth-seeded North Carolina and no. 3 seed Iowa State and both teams come in hot. The Tar Heels reeled off six straight before losing to Duke in the regular season finale and then Pitt in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. UNC is led by sophomore G Marcus Paige and junior F James Michael McAdoo. Both players lit it up in their second round thriller against Providence, scoring 19 and 16 points, respectively, but the Tarheels only escaped with a 79-77 victory when Friars G Bryce Cotton lost the ball in a potential game-winning situation. Cotton, who scored a career-high 36 points in the game, dropped a long rebound attempt with three seconds left, turning it over to seal the victory for UNC.
Iowa State, however, could be the warmer of the two. The Cyclones took four straight en route to the Big 12 Tournament title and dismantled North Carolina Central by 18 points in its second round game, possibly leading UConn to forget scoring a mild March Madness upset of Villanova. Iowa State also comes with a bevy of scoring options. Seniors Melvin Ejiim and DeAndre Kane led the team in scoring with 18.1 ppg and 16.9 ppg, respectively, and sophomore F Georges Niang and junior F Dustin Hogue also averaged double-figures in scoring. Niang averaged 16.7 ppg and Hogue 10.9 ppg.
Commentary by Rick Sarlat