In his 20 years as the head coach at Michigan State, Tom Izzo has been a model of consistency. Every one of his recruiting classes has managed to play in at least one Final Four during their four years at the school… every one, that is, until the streak ended on Sunday. Against the Connecticut Huskies, the Spartans committed an uncharacteristic 16 turnovers as they fell 60-54 in the Elite Eight matchup.
For the Huskies, the game was won at the free-throw line, where they hit 21 of their 22 attempts to outscore Michigan State 21-7 at the charity stripe. By forcing the Spartans into committing so many fouls, Connecticut was able to mitigate a poor shooting night from the field that saw the team make just 34.7 percent of its shots and only five of its 22 three-point attempts.
Senior guard Shabazz Napier was the catalyst for Connecticut, leading all players with 25 points and adding six rebounds and four assists. He hit four of the Huskies’ five three-pointers, drained all nine of his free-throw attempts, and iced the game in the closing minutes. First he put a jumper through the hoop that put the Huskies up by four with 1:45 remaining, then finished off the Spartans with a pair of free throws in the waning seconds.
Three years ago, Connecticut was celebrating the third national championship in school history. A year later, legendary head coach Jim Calhoun finished his final season in Storrs, and the Huskies were summarily bounced in their NCAA Tournament opener against Iowa State before even mounting a real title defense. Last season, in Kevin Ollie’s first season succeeding Calhoun at the helm, the team was banned from NCAA Tournament play due to the team’s poor academic standing.
Now, back in the NCAA’s good graces, they’ve returned to the Final Four in Ollie’s first March Madness run at the head of the program. They’ll take on Florida on Saturday, April 5 at AT&T Stadium outside Dallas for the chance to claim the fourth national title in program history.