NEW YORK – DeAndre Daniels’ Connecticut teammates were going to keep passing him the ball until he cooled off.
By the time that happened, it was too late for Iowa State.
Daniels scored 19 of his 27 points in the second half, and the Huskies held on for an 81-76 victory Friday to reach the East Region final a year after UConn was barred from the NCAA tournament for academic reasons.
“DeAndre’s a scorer, and once you feel that you have that confidence, the next shot’s going to go in,” said senior Shabazz Napier, who knows a thing or two about scoring himself. “We kept feeding him, and he got super hot.”
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Daniels made his first six shots after halftime, the only Husky to make a field goal for more than 8½ minutes. His three-pointer gave seventh-seeded UConn a 49-32 lead.
The third-seeded Cyclones rallied late, pulling to 67-63 with 2½ minutes remaining. But senior Niels Giffey made a three from the corner for his first points since the game’s opening moments, and when the Huskies (29-8) made their free throws in the final minute, the UConn fans packing Madison Square Garden could celebrate.
The Huskies will face fourth-seeded Michigan State on Sunday for a trip to the Final Four. The Spartans beat top-seeded Virginia 61-59.
Second-year UConn coach Kevin Ollie, who played 29 games for the Sonics in 2003, is 3-0 in the NCAA tournament.
Dustin Hogue scored a career-high 34 points for Iowa State (28-8), but Big 12 player of the year Melvin Ejim was 3 of 13 for seven points, more than 11 below his average.
The Cyclones, in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000, were playing their second game without third-leading scorer Georges Niang, who broke his foot in their tournament opener.
They trailed by 16 with less than 7½ minutes to go but nearly came all the way back behind Hogue’s scoring inside.
“That’s who these guys are, they’re fighters,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said.
With UConn clinging to a 70-65 lead and less than a minute left, Iowa State’s Naz Long missed a three-pointer, and the 6-foot-1 Napier pulled down the rebound and was fouled by Hogue. The guard made both free throws.
UConn was 20 of 22 from the free-throw line, while Iowa State was 6 of 15.
Napier, the American Athletic Conference player of the year, made four early three-pointers, then made only one more field goal the rest of the way. But the quick start by Napier and backcourt mate Ryan Boatright opened up space for the 6-9 Daniels, an inconsistent junior who can score from all over the court when he is on.
Since a stretch in late February and early March when he failed to reach double figures in four straight games, Daniels had averaged 15 in his last six outings before Friday. Then against Iowa State, he shot 10 of 15 and pulled down 10 rebounds.
“With our seniors on this team, I just want them to go out with a bang,” Daniels said.
Ejim and DeAndre Kane, Iowa State’s top scorers, were a combined 9 of 31. But Hogue, from nearby Yonkers, found plenty of space, shooting 15 for 19.
“To play in the Garden, it’s something I dreamed about as a kid,” he said.