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Pre-NCAA game preview: Michigan State

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: theday.com

Published March 30. 2014 12:00PM   Updated April 03. 2014 1:38PM

UConn will attempt to advance to the Final Four for the fifth time in school history today.

It will require UConn's best effort of the season to beat Michigan State in the East Regional final at Madison Square Garden. Game time is 2:20 p.m.

It also will be the ultimate toughness test for the Huskies.

"We've been through a lot," senior Shabazz Napier said. "We understand that this is definitely going to be another dogfight. We don't expect them to back down and I hope they don't expect to back down.

"It's going to be a fight, and we're just hopeful that we'll be on top."

Here's pre-game preview

-- Records: Seventh-seeded UConn 29-8, No. 4 Michigan State (29-8)

-- Last game: UConn beat third-seeded Iowa State, 81-76, Friday; Michigan State defeated top-seeded Virginia, 61-59, Friday

-- Common opponents: Harvard (UConn won 61-56, Michigan St. won 80-73), Indiana (UConn won 59-58, Michigan St. won 71-66 and 73-56)

-- Probable starters: UConn, 6-1 sr. guard Shabazz Napier (17.9 pts, 5.9 rebs, 4.9 assists), 6-0 jr. guard Ryan Boatright (12.1 pts), 6-9 jr. forward DeAndre Daniels (13.0 pts, 5.8 rebs), 6-7 sr. forward Niels Giffey (8.4 pts, 3.8 rebs), 6-10 so. center Phil Nolan (3.5 pts, 2.4 rebs)

Michigan State, 6-1 sr. Keith Appling (11.4 pts, 4.5 assists), 6-4 so. guard Gary Harris (16.6 pts, 4.1 rebs), 6-5 so. guard Denzel Valentine (7.9 pts, 5.9 rebs), 6-6 jr. Branden Dawson (11.4 pts, 8.3 rebs), 6-10 forward Adreian Payne (16.5 pts, 7.2 rebs)

Noteworthy:

-- Coach Kevin Ollie: "We want to give our fans something special. It will be amazing to play 40 full (minutes) of UConn basketball and get a win, but I know it's going to take every ounce of guts we have, ever ounce of sweat and tears that we've got to win against a great Michigan State team."

-- UConn is playing in its in 11th Elite Eight, going 4-6. The Huskies have won three of the last four trip.

Michigan State is 8-3 in Regional finals, including 6-1 under coach Tom Izzo.

-- Series: UConn leads, 3-2, winning the last two including a 66-62 decision in 2012-13 season opener in Germany. The teams also played in 2009 national semifinals, with Michigan State winning 83-72.

-- Player to watch: The 245-pound Payne, a match-up nightmare.

-- Michigan State relies heavily on interior offense and perimeter defense to punish opponents. Payne and Dawson are averaging a combined 36 points and 14 rebounds in the NCAA tournament.

-- Top reserve: junior guard Travis Trice (7.5 pts).

-- The Spartans lead the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense at 39.8 and shoot 47.6 from the field.

-- Hot: Daniels is averaging 18.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in three NCAA games. Cold: UConn almost even in rebounding (33.7-33.0) in last three games.

-- Since both teams reached Final Four in 1999, UConn is 35-8 in NCAA tournament, MichiganState is 40-14.

-- Winner plays Florida in the national semifinals Saturday in Dallas.

-- Check back later for a post-game breakdown and video.

-- Follow me on Twitter @GavinKeefe



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