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UConn prepares for tough test (video)

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: theday.com

Published March 29. 2014 10:00PM   Updated April 03. 2014 1:40PM

UConn and Michigan State practiced Saturday at Madison Square Garden and met with the media.

Both teams feel confident heading into Sunday afternoon's East Regional final.

Some highlights from today:

-- Saturday's media session featured a break-out session with the five starters from each team.

Check out the attached video of Giffey's talking about the upcoming game, the last match-up in 2012 and his rebounding prowess. The video is a bit dark because Giffey sat in a room with little light and a black background.

When asked about being one win away from advancing to the Final Four, Giffey said: "It's pretty exciting. This is the time we've played for and practiced for all year. You've waited for this opportunity and chance.

"It's just kind of unreal because you're so in the process and you don't have much time to reflect on things. … It's going to be amazing."

-- MichiganState has added motivation to win today's game.

The Spartans are attempting to extend an impressive streak that's seen every senior class under Izzo play in the Final Four.

"It's is there every day and every game," senior Adreian Payne said of the streak. "I pray about it every night. It's always on my mind. For me to have a chance to be this close, it's exciting. It's only one game away."

UConn's senior class of Shabazz Napier, Tyler Olander and Giffey are trying to reach the Final Four for the second time in their careers. They helped the Huskies win a national championship in 2011.

-- Michigan State has built a reputation on toughness. The Spartans are physically and mentally tough.

The Huskies think they're tough, too.

"At this point in the tournament there are no Xs and Os," freshman Terrence Samuel said. "It's just the toughest team is going to win. The toughest team is us."

-- In the last meeting between the two teams, UConn upset then No. 14 Michigan State, 66-62, in Germany in November 2012. It was Ollie's first career win as a head coach.

"I feel it's pretty much the same team that we played (in 2012)," said Michigan State senior Keith Appling, who had a team-high 17 points in that game. "They still have two great guards on the perimeter that we're going to have to just try to contain as much as we possibly can."

Senior Shabazz Napier led all scorers with 25 points and backcourt teammate Ryan Boatright added 13.

"We don't expect that game to be anything like this game," Napier said. "Michigan State, they've grown. We have grown. And we know it is going to be a dogfight and that game we're not even thinking about it."

-- Michigan State Tom Izzo on UConn's frontcourt: "Their big guys impress me. Then when you take a kid like (DeAndre) Daniels, who has an incredible, incredible night, doing it inside and outside, we got our work cut out for us."

Daniels scored 27 points and had 10 rebounds in UConn's win over Iowa State on Friday.

-- The Spartans won't be intimidated by playing what amounts to a road game at Madison Square Garden. UConn fans are expected to be out in force again today.

"We actually have played better on the road than we have at home," Izzo said. "We lost four home games this year, which is un-American and illegal. We played actually pretty well on the road."

-- UConn coach Kevin Ollie on the difference between Napier now and two years ago: "He has a wonderful gift, and now he's giving away his gift."

-- Glen Miller and Karl Hobbs, two coaches on Ollie's veteran staff, also served as assistants during his playing days.

"They were there when I was knucklehead running around school, and didn't know what I was doing," Ollie said.

-- Today's winner plays Florida in the Final Four Saturday in Dallas.

-- Check back Sunday for a pre-game preview and post-game breakdown.

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