Daniels’ hot second half leads UConn past Iowa St.

NEW YORK — DeAndre Daniels’ UConn teammates were going to keep passing him the ball until he cooled off.

By the time that happened, it was too late for Iowa State.

Daniels scored 19 of his 27 points in the second half, and the Huskies hung on for an 81-76 victory Friday to reach the East Regional final a year after UConn was barred from the NCAA tournament.

“DeAndre’s a scorer, and once you feel that you have that confidence, the next shot’s going to go in,” said senior Shabazz Napier, who knows a thing or two about scoring himself. “We kept feeding him, and he got super hot.”

Daniels hit his first six shots after halftime, the only Husky to make a field goal for over 8½ minutes. His 3-pointer gave seventh-seeded UConn a 49-32 lead.

The third-seeded Cyclones rallied late, pulling within 67-63 with 2½ minutes remaining. But senior Niels Giffey hit a 3 in the corner for his first points since the game’s opening moments, and when the Huskies (29-8) made their free throws in the final minute, the UConn fans packing Madison Square Garden could celebrate.

The Huskies will face fourth-seeded Michigan State on Sunday for a trip to the Final Four.

Dustin Hogue scored a career-high 34 points for Iowa State (28-8), but Big 12 player of the year Melvin Ejim was 3 of 13 for seven points, more than 11 below his average.

The Cyclones, in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2000, were playing their second game without third-leading scorer Georges Niang, who broke his foot in their tournament opener.

They trailed by 16 with less than 7½ minutes to go but nearly came all the way back behind Hogue’s scoring inside.

“That’s who these guys are, they’re fighters,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

With UConn clinging to a 70-65 lead and less than a minute left, Iowa State’s Naz Long missed a 3-pointer, and the 6-1 Napier pulled down the rebound and was fouled by Hogue. The guard calmly drilled both free throws.

UConn was 20 of 22 from the foul line, while Iowa State was 6 of 15.

Napier, the American Athletic Conference player of the year, drained four early 3-pointers, then made only one more field goal the rest of the way. But the quick start by Napier and backcourt mate Ryan Boatright opened up space for the 6-foot-9 Daniels, an inconsistent junior who can score all over the court when he’s on.

Since a stretch in late February and early March when he failed to reach double figures in four straight games, Daniels had averaged 15 in his last six outings before Friday. Then against Iowa State, he shot 10 of 15 and pulled down 10 rebounds.

“With our seniors on this team, I just want them to go out with a bang,” Daniels said.

Ejim and DeAndre Kane, Iowa State’s top scorers, were a combined 9 of 31. But Hogue, from nearby Yonkers, found plenty of space, shooting 15 for 19.

“To play in the Garden, it’s something I dreamed about as a kid,” he said.

After Napier’s difficult early 3-pointers — he was falling away on two of them and stepping back to open a sliver of space on a third — Boatright and Daniels took over. The three combined for all but six of the Huskies’ points as they built a 36-26 halftime lead.

Second-year coach Kevin Ollie is now 3-0 in the NCAA tournament after taking over for mentor Jim Calhoun, who gave him a big hug after this one was over. The last time UConn made it this far, the Huskies won a national title when Napier and Giffey were freshmen.

The current upperclassmen could have transferred after the program’s low scores on the NCAA’s academic progress measure kept UConn from last year’s Big East and NCAA tournaments.

“We were banned from a lot of things,” Ollie said. “We couldn’t come here for the tournament, but they weren’t banned from loving and pushing and encouraging each other, and that’s what it’s all about. Those dark times, if you don’t give up in the dark times, it will reverse, the wind will start going in your favor, your direction.

“And I think that’s what’s happened now.”

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