Iowa State was without an important cog and it showed Friday night against Connecticut at Madison Square Garden.
The Huskies took advantage of their mismatch in the paint and held off the Cyclones’ late rally to win 81-76 in the NCAA East Regional. UConn (29-8) advances to play the winner of Friday’s late game between No. 1 seed Virginia (30-6) and fourth seed Michigan State (28-8) at 1:20 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
ISU forward Georges Niang was injured in the Cyclones’ tournament opener and his absence was quickly exploited by the Huskies, who jumped out to a 10-4 lead behind Shabazz Napier’s two 3-pointers.
The Cyclones, who were playing in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000, fell behind by as much as 17 points six minutes into the second half. UConn’s DeAndre Daniels scored 11 points in the stretch and led the Huskies with 27 points on 10 of 15 shooting. He also had a game-high 10 rebounds.
But ISU hung around and made a run in the final five minutes, thanks in large part to a career game from Dustin Hogue.
The Cyclones’ 11-2 run, which included a 3-pointer from the top of the key from DeAndre Kane, cut their deficit to 63-56 with 4:29 remaining. Naz Long, who has hit numerous clutch shots for ISU off the bench, scored on a driving layup and a 3 from the corner to cut UConn’s lead to 67-63 with just over two minutes to go.
The Huskies didn’t wilt, however, as Neils Giffey answered with a 3 from the corner. The Cyclones weren’t able to climb any closer when they were forced to foul and hope for UConn misses at the line. And the Huskies didn’t miss much. They made 20 of 22 free-throw attempts and missed just one in the final minutes.
Hogue, who scored a career-high 34 points on 15-of-19 shooting, said the Huskies’ interior defense made the Cyclones’ usually fluid offense stagnant.
“They did a good job packing the paint,” said Hogue, whose previous career high was 22 points in December. “So we needed to the move the ball around, and without that being done they were able to pack the lane and make us take a lot of tough shots.”
The normally high-scoring Cyclones were held seven points below their average by the Huskies, who have the 37th-ranked defense in the country, holding teams to 63.7 points a game.
The Huskies’ shooting was excellent from the start and they finished at 52 percent from the field. ISU struggled early but heated up later, shooting 57.5 percent in the second half.
UConn was particularly effective from the outside early. They made 7 of 12 3s in the first half (the most in any half for any team in the tournament this year) and led 36-26 at halftime. Napier and Ryan Boatright led with 12 and 10 points at the break on a combined 8 of 13 shooting, including 6 of 7 from the 3-point arc.
While UConn came out sizzling, Iowa State struggled, shooting 31 percent in the first half. Hogue led the Cyclones with 10 points and Kane had seven before the break. Iowa State struggled to finish drives as Daniels and Amida Brimah kept the lane clogged with two blocks each, three of which came early in the game that set a physical tone for UConn.
“They got us standing around a little bit,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “[In the] second half I thought we were very aggressive and figured some things out. Got much better movement and went down swinging and that’s exactly what I would expect out of this team. To lose a guy like Georges Niang and still go out and beat a North Carolina and have an opportunity after being down 17 [to UConn], tells you everything you need to know about this group of guys.”