UConn men face Iowa State tonight in Sweet 16

UConn players practice at Madison Square Garden in New York on Thursday in preparation for tonight's NCAA tournament Sweet 16 game against Iowa State. The Huskies have had tremendous success at the Garden, winning the last of their seven Big East tournament titles in 2011.
Peter Morgan/AP Photo UConn players practice at Madison Square Garden in New York on Thursday in preparation for tonight's NCAA tournament Sweet 16 game against Iowa State. The Huskies have had tremendous success at the Garden, winning the last of their seven Big East tournament titles in 2011.

New York — At this time last year, senior Shabazz Napier spent March Madness watching television.

His favorite show had nothing to do with college basketball, though.

A postseason ban put Napier and his UConn teammates in no mood to watch the NCAA tournament.

"To be honest, I didn't watch one game," Napier said. "I was more into watching River Monsters, stuff like that. I didn't want to watch (the NCAA tournament) because I felt like if I did, I would be aggravated or annoyed with it."

As much as Napier loves anything to do with fishing, he overwhelmingly prefers participating in postseason over watching River Monsters.

Seventh-seeded UConn (28-8) continues its March Madness journey tonight (7:27, TBS) against third-seeded Iowa State (28-7) in the East Regional semifinals at Madison Square Garden.

The Huskies have lofty goals.

"We feel good where we're at, but we're not satisfied," junior Ryan Boatright said. "This isn't where we're trying to get to. We're trying to get to Dallas and we're trying to win the national championship, and this is just a step in that process."

UConn will need to take down a Big 12 Conference monster to advance to the regional finals for the first time since 2011. The Cyclones have a little magic of their own going on, winning the conference tournament and then using last-second basket to knock off North Carolina on Sunday.

Iowa State is the best offensive team that UConn has faced this season.

The Cyclones rank fifth in the nation in scoring at (83.2 ppg.) and scored 85 points against North Carolina despite playing without injured starter Georges Niang, the team's third leading scorer.

They rely on a fast-paced attack and spread the floor in the halfcourt, looking to set up high percentage shots.

Coach Kevin Ollie pointed to transition defense and running Iowa State's perimeter shooters off the 3-point line as two keys. The Cyclones are shooting a sizzling 49 percent from beyond the arc in the NCAA tournament.

The Huskies have to guard against getting caught up in a shootout.

"It's going to be a great game," Ollie said. "But it's not going to be easy. Any game of this stature, there's going to be some difficulties. We've got to dig our heels in. We got to get the right stops and we've got to play defense, because they score an unbelievable average."

Senior DeAndre Kane (17.1 points, 6.8 rebounds), a versatile 6-foot-4 guard, and 6-6 senior forward Melvin Ejim (18.1 points, 8.4 rebounds), the Big 12 Player of the Year, create major headaches and help make up for Iowa State's lack of size.

The Huskies plan on playing team defense on both players, especially Kane, who can post up down low or score from the perimeter.

"He puts so much pressure on you," Ollie said. "It's going to be 10 eyes on him at all times. … Our whole team is going to try to guard him. Hopefully we can stop him."

So far, no one has been able to stop Napier, who's averaged a team-best 24.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in two NCAA tournament wins.

Kane will get his chance tonight to defend Napier.

"I'm not looking at it as a one-on-one matchup," said Kane, a transfer from Marshall. "I know a lot of people are. He's a great player. He does a lot of things for his team. … He puts his team in great position to win.

"But we're going to have to do whatever we can to slow him down."

No matter the defender, Ollie has faith that Napier will deliver again tonight. Two years ago, Napier had 22 points against Iowa State in a loss in UConn's NCAA tournament opener.

"I know Shabazz is ready," Ollie said. "He's been ready the whole season. He's been ready since last year when we couldn't go to the NCAA tournament. So he's not scared of this moment."

Tonight's winner plays either top-seeded Virginia or No. 4 Michigan State, which meet in the second game, on Sunday in the regional final.

g.keefe@theday.com

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