UConn looks comfortable in de facto home win over Iowa State

Connecticut's DeAndre Daniels exults during the second half Connecticut's DeAndre Daniels exults during the second half in a regional semifinal of the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Friday, March 28, 2014. Iowa State's DeAndre Kane is at right. Photo Credit: AP / Seth Wenig

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Greg Logan Newsday columnist Greg Logan

Greg Logan is a college sports and boxing writer for Newsday. ...

The script could have been written by Neil Simon -- "The Out-of-Towners." Things started to go wrong for Iowa State before it even arrived at Madison Square Garden Friday night. The Cyclones lost an important piece of luggage in forward Georges Niang because of a foot injury suffered earlier in the NCAA Tournament.

When they stepped onto the brightly lit court underneath the spoked roof, well, that was about as close to Broadway as most of them had ever been, and it showed. Connecticut acted like it had been there before, taking control early and playing tough late in an 81-76 East Regional victory that put the Huskies in the Elite Eight against Michigan State.

You could call it an upset since the seventh seed beat the third seed, or you could call it what it was -- a home game for UConn. As Shabazz Napier said, "It just felt like a home game . . . It's definitely comfortable for us. We've played here a bunch of times, and we have a feel for the court. But the biggest advantage is our fans."

When the opening game began, the buzz was muted by the lack of bodies in the famed building. Fans from Virginia and Michigan State might have been busy engaging in the movable feast of midtown Manhattan.

But it wasn't long before the electrical current was flowing again as the point guard matchup kicked into gear when UConn's Napier and Iowa State's DeAndre Kane exchanged three-pointers. Opening volleys.

Pretty soon, it was Napier and the fans from New York's "Metro North" team who were laying early claim to the room. Napier bombed his first four threes cleanly through the net.

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Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg worried before the game about Ryan Boatright, and the Huskies' "other guard" nailed his first two threes. By halftime, the Huskies seemed completely comfortable in their home away from home with a 36-26 lead, including 22 combined points from Napier (19 points, five assists) and Boatright (16 points).

It seemed the "wow factor" Hoiberg talked about for the Midwesterners playing in the Garden spotlight affected Cyclones stars Kane and Melvin Ejim. They ultimately totaled 23 points and shot 9-for-31. Not only were they missing, but they played at the slower first-half tempo dictated by Napier and Boatright. "I don't think it was nervousness," Kane said. "We had good looks, but we missed a lot of shots."

Hoiberg added: "Sometimes, the basket looks big, and sometimes, it looks like a thimble. We got to the rim a lot early. I don't know if it was intimidation or not."

Things went haywire for Iowa State in the second half when the Huskies' DeAndre Daniels -- you know, the "other DeAndre" in this game -- heated up, drawing roars by converting a nifty alley-oop from Napier for a 42-28 lead that grew to 17 points. Daniels had a career game with 27 points and 10 rebounds.

Iowa State rallied behind the one New Yorker on its roster. Dustin Hogue grew up in Yonkers but he wasn't lost there. Hogue found his way to the Garden rims for 34 points, but it wasn't enough.

"It was a beautiful experience for me playing in the Garden," Hogue said. "They had a lot of fans, but I don't think it was so much their fans. We just didn't play our style."

After sending Iowa State packing, only one visiting team stands between the Huskies and the Final Four. "Of course, we're thinking about being 40 minutes away if we play our game," Napier said. "But we don't want to think too far ahead. We want to visualize what's in front of us and go from there."

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