Published March 29. 2014 4:00AM
New York - The bright lights of Dallas came into sight on the horizon on Friday night. UConn can see the glow.
The Huskies moved closer to a trip to Dallas, site of the 2014 Final Four, by grinding out an 81-76 victory over third-seeded Iowa State in the East Regional semifinal before a pro-UConn crowd at Madison Square Garden.
They're heading to the regional final for the 11th time in school history and first trip since 2011, a magical season that ended with the Huskies winning the national championship.
Jim Calhoun, the retired Hall of Fame coach, congratulated Kevin Ollie as the second-year coach came off the court.
"He's built this program on pride and tradition and I just want to continue to keep the torch alive," Ollie said. "He's passed me the baton and I'm just trying to run with it the best way I know how.
"The best I do know how is to keep our team together and keep us fighting. No matter what situation we're in, negative or positive, we're going to always see the right light. That light is shining bright now. We've got to keep it shining and hopefully we can play another 40 full (minutes) of UConn style of basketball and hopefully get to Texas."
UConn (29-8) will play fourth-seeded Michigan State, a 61-59 winner over top-seeded Virginia in Friday's late game, on Sunday in the Elite Eight at 2:20 p.m. (Ch. 3).
"It's real special," junior Ryan Boatright said. "A lot of teams in the country wish that they were in our position. We're just blessed to be here and we're taking advantage of the opportunity."
Boatright (16 points), senior Shabazz Napier (19 points) and junior DeAndre Daniels (27 points, 10 rebounds) combined for 62 points. Dustin Hogue kept Iowa State close with a career-high 34 points.
Daniels took over at the start of the second half, scoring 19 points after intermission. The Huskies are a lethal team when Daniels attacks on the offensive end.
"We're very good when we get that DeAndre to show up," Boatright said.
Daniels made turn-around jumpers from the corner, twisting driving shots and jumpers from the perimeter in the best game of his career. He went 10-for-15 from the field.
He's elevated his game during postseason.
"Well, this is it," Daniels said of the do or die postseason format. "I just want to win. I just want to go out there and just play hard for my teammates. This is the tournament, and this is when everybody is going to give it their all."
Seventh-seeded UConn set the tone from the beginning on Friday, controlling the pace and cranking up the defensive intensity. The Huskies allowed just eight fast break points, drying up a vital offensive source for an Iowa State team that averages 83 points per game.
The Cyclones (28-8) looked rattled and rushed shots.
Iowa State looked rattled and rushed shots. They shot a miserable 31 percent (9-for-29) in the first half before finding their rhythm in the second half.
"They had a very good defensive game plan," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. "They got us standing around a little bit."
The Huskies never trailed after taking a 5-3 edge on Napier's 3-pointer. They lead by 10 at halftime and as many as 17 in the second half before holding on down the stretch by sinking their free throws. They went 19 for 20 from the line after intermission.
Ollie went with a small lineup for most of the second half, as Napier, Boatright and freshman Terrence Samuel took good care of the basketball and hit timely baskets. Samuel, who's from Brooklyn, had a vital 10 points off the bench.
When Daniels buried a 3-pointer, the Huskies led 49-32 with 14:19 left. The UConn fans in attendance roared their approval.
But the Cyclones fought back behind Hogue. They cut the deficit to 70-65 on Naz Long's basket with 1:34 left.
But the Huskies made 11 of 12 free throws down the stretch.
"They played together and they played hard," Ollie said. "We played a full 40 minutes to get this win. And the only thing we're looking forward to is a Sunday match-up, whoever that may be."