NEW YORK — There's a reason coaches say great guards are the key to March.
It jumps out at you when you watch Connecticut's duo of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, who are both capable of demoralizing opponents, whether it be a Napier three with a defender in his face or Boatright's stifling defense.
Together, arguably the nation's top backcourt led the seventh-seeded Huskies to a 60-54 win against No. 4 Michigan State Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. Connecticut has earned a trip to the Final Four in coach Kevin Ollie's second year, and it did so in front of a deafening crowd with a distinct Husky flavor.
Napier led all scorers with 25 points, including jumper to put UConn up four with 1:45 to play and seal the game. Boatright added 11 points.
The other important part of having great guards is what they don't do: turn the ball over and pick up bad fouls.
That's exactly what hurt the Spartans most, as point guard Keith Appling struggled with both, fouling out on a Napier three-ball and turning the ball over four times as well. Appling, who has been playing through a somewhat debilitating wrist injury for weeks, contributed just two points offensively as well.
When Appling was out with foul trouble, Michigan State had trouble bringing the ball up the court and finding good looks against the UConn defense. The Spartans turned the ball over 16 times in the game.
Turnovers and fouls were what ultimately doomed the Spartans, who battled back from an early deficit to get back in the game and even hold a lead in the second half.
UConn made its final nine free throws down the stretch.
The Huskies will play Florida in their national semifinal game next weekend, a rematch of a memorable game the teams played on Dec. 2. Napier hit a buzzer-beater to win it, and it remains the last game Florida has lost this season.