UConn winning a major game in Madison Square Garden. There's something poetic about that.
On the same floor where the Huskies secured seven Big East titles, UConn dispatched Iowa State on Friday night in efficient, relentless fashion, 81-76. Led by DeAndre Daniels' 27 points, the Huskies kept the Cyclones on their heels all night long, pushing on offense and pressing on defense.
"This whole team has ice in their veins," Daniels told TBS' Allie LaForce after the game. "It starts with Shabazz Napier. We follow his lead."
Napier began the game four for four from long range, and would finish with 19 points. Both Napier and Daniels hit key free throws down the stretch to keep Iowa State from getting any closer than two possessions even in the closing minutes.
The centerpiece of the Cyclones' attack was Dustin Hogue, the Yonkers, N.Y., product who dropped an astounding 34 points, more than three times his season average, on Connecticut. Unfortunately, only one other Cyclone, DeAndre Kane, last week's hero against UNC, could even break into double figures.
Iowa State had trouble putting the ball in the bucket from pretty much every angle. The Cyclones went nearly 20 minutes of game time without scoring a three-point field goal, and buried less than half (6 of 13) of their free throws. Connecticut, by contrast, was nearly perfect from the free-throw line, missing just two of 18, and drained nine of 19 from long range.
Iowa State overcame double-digit leads eight times this season to win, and with a late 11-2 run appeared primed to add this matchup to that list. But sloppy play and key misses down the stretch doomed the Cyclones, who could never get closer than four points even in the waning seconds of this game.
As so often happens when teams meet in later rounds, the coaches have a long and involved history, and this matchup featured two coaches who embodied the term "NBA journeyman" in the 1990s and 2000s. Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg played for three franchises and UConn's Kevin Ollie 11, the two teaming up briefly in Chicago in the 2001-02 season.
[NCAA tournament: Full bracket | Check out Instant Reactions | Buy team gear]
But their friendship dates back even farther. As high school students, they both visited Arizona on a recruiting trip in the early '90s, where then-coach Lute Olson informed them that they were competing for a single scholarship. They both turned down the scholarship, which would eventually go to Damon Stoudamire. Instead, both men attended the schools they now coach.
The Huskies now go on to face the winner of Michigan State-UVA, while the Cyclones head home. Only one team left the Garden happy, but both can take at least some comfort in knowing that they're both headed in very much the right direction.