NEW YORK — What have we learned from this weekend of basketball? Never go against the Connecticut Huskies at Madison Square Garden when elimination is on the line.
It’s one of the classic blunders.
On Sunday afternoon, the seventh-seeded Huskies ran their March record at MSG over the past four years to 9-1 with an impressive 60-54 victory against fourth-seeded Michigan State to earn the East Region’s Final Four bid. This is the fourth time since 2000 that a team seeded seventh or higher has made the Final Four.
This was the most important of the wins at MSG, barely. The 2011 Huskies won five games in five days to claim the Big East title, which helped propel them to a national championship. This one, though, actually puts them into the Final Four. Close contest, but this one edges out the 2011 wins.
The game featured extended swings of momentum for both teams. UConn started the game on a 12-2 run, then Michigan State went on a 30-11 push, and then a 26-7 run by the Huskies, which set up the final few crazy minutes. The Spartans cut UConn’s lead to just two points on a pair of free throws by Adreian Payne with 58 seconds left, but the Huskies scored the next seven points to seal the win.
The game snapped an incredible streak for Michigan State. Coach Tom Izzo took over the program for the 1994-95 season and made his first trip to the Final Four in 1999. Since that trip, every single four-year senior in his program has made the Final Four during their time as a Spartan.
Well, had. Payne and Keith Appling became the first Izzo seniors to fail to make the Final Four, a designation neither wanted on their time at Michigan State.
UConn won its third national title in 2011, but the Huskies were ineligible for last year’s tournament because of previous low scores on the NCAA’s academic progress rate.
Ryan Boatright made four steals as UConn used its quickness to force 16 turnovers. DeAndre Daniels shut down Branden Dawson, who scored 24 points in Michigan State’s Sweet 16 win over top-seeded Virginia. Dawson attempted just three field goals, making one, to finish with five points.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.