Each one of coach Tom Izzo’s senior classes has made at least one Final Four in his 19 seasons at Michigan State, which will get put to the test Sunday when the Spartans face No. 7 seed Connecticut in the East regional finals in New York.
Fourth-seeded Michigan State knocked off top-seeded Virginia in a physical 61-59 victory Friday, breaking their three-year dry spell of getting past the Sweet 16. Michigan State advanced to the Elite Eight for the eighth time since 1999.
Game preview: Michigan takes on Kentucky in Elite 8
While the Spartans got only their third win in 13 tries at Madison Square Garden, the Huskies used the stage to avenge a loss to an Iowa State team that knocked them out of the Big Dance two years ago.
"It felt like a home game. We just feel like Madison Square Garden is kind of our third home; Gampel (Pavilion) being the first and XL (Center) being the second,” leading scorer Shabazz Napier told the Hartford Courant.
Connecticut doesn’t need any more help based on its recent success in the NCAA tournament, improving to 35-8 in its last 12 appearances after defeating the Cyclones 81-76.
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ABOUT CONNECTICUT (29-8): Many have considered DeAndre Daniels an X-factor all season and he proved up to the task Friday, hitting 10 of his final 13 field-goal attempts en route to a 27-point, 10-rebound performance.
"I called him an animal. When he gets in that mode, that's what he is; he's an animal and you've got to keep feeding him,” Napier told the Courant.
Although the Huskies surrendered a career-high 34 points to Dustin Hogue, they limited All-Big 12 first-teamers DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim to a combined 23 points on 9-of-31 shooting from the field.
ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (29-8): The Spartans’ own X-factor, Branden Dawson, continued his dominant play in the NCAA tournament against the Cavaliers with 24 points and 10 rebounds – giving him 50 points and 19 boards over his last two games.
“Dawson makes all the difference; he did (Friday). He was a matchup problem for us,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett told reporters.
Gary Harris on Friday became the 45th player in school history to score at least 1,000 career points, but only the fourth to do so in his first two seasons.
1. Michigan State has held last four opponents to a combined 36.1 percent from the field.
2. Connecticut is 48-of-53 from the foul line in the final five minutes (and 60-of-70 overall) through three NCAA tournament games.
3. The Spartans are 8-3 all-time in regional finals.