NEW YORK — DeAndre Daniels opened the second half with a jumper, then another, then a layup and a jumper, and then caught a pass from teammate Shabazz Napier on the right wing, toggled the ball between his knees, aimed, fired and scored, lifting Connecticut's lead to 14 points and forcing an Iowa State timeout.
Call that a heat check; call it good; call it the highlight moment of Daniels' tournament coming-out party, a 27-point outburst that helped lead the Huskies past the Cyclones 81-76 on Friday at Madison Square Garden and into a matchup with either Virginia or Michigan State in the East region final.
Better yet, add a third member to UConn's two-headed offensive monster — with Daniels joining guards Napier and Ryan Boatright — and ask a Dallas-size tournament question: Just how good can UConn (29-8) be when a player such as Daniels brings another wrinkle to this attack?
"It's not just always DeAndre, it's not just always Shabazz; if we have a balanced attack, we can win a lot of games, and we can continue to play," said UConn coach Kevin Ollie. "I was looking for the mismatches that we had, and when DeAndre plays like that, it really gives us that X factor, because I can pick-and-pop him, I can put him on a sweet spot, I can put him on the block."
Daniels was able to secure UConn's win with 19 second-half points, with each shot seemingly adding confidence to a player teammates say never lacks for self-assurance.
"He plays with a lot of confidence from the jump," said freshman guard Terrence Samuel. "He'll take any shot because he feels like he'll make every shot he takes."
Said Daniels, "I feel like I've been playing like this almost the whole year now. I don't think I started doing this now. I've been doing it the whole season. I was great tonight. I was knocking down my shots, and my teammates were looking for me."
Daniels is a scorer, Napier said. "Once you feel that you have that confidence, the next shot's going to go in, and we kept feeding him and he got super hot. We had to cool his hand down, and we just kept going. But he's a great scorer for us."
The Huskies' two lead guards know the drill: When Daniels is rolling — when he's making sideline jumpers, bursting to the hoop, stepping back from three — he can kick this offense to another level, a potentially frightening development for any team in UConn's path to the Final Four.
"Once he hit the first jump shot, we knew that we were going to try to get him another easy basket," Boatright said. "And once he got that easy basket, we were going to keep going to him until he missed. And he did a tremendous job with his shot selection and knocking down his shots."
As if Napier alone wasn't enough to weaken opponents at the knees. He scored 19 points on only 11 attempts, giving him 68 points through three tournament games, and added five rebounds and five assists — showing the sort of end-to-end balance that made him the first player in program history to lead the team in points, rebounds and assists a game.
But Friday's win showed how UConn can flourish when all facets of the offense — the guards and forwards such as Daniels and Niels Giffey, who added five points and seven rebounds — work in unison. In the first half, for example, the trio of Napier, Boatright and Daniels combined to score 30 of UConn's 36 points.
"We just have a third major, major scoring threat in him," senior forward Giffey said. "People always matching up against Shabazz and Boatright, but when he gets into that rhythm he's just a big matchup problem. He can stretch out people. He can get in the low post and take slower guys. So he's got an amazing all-around game."
Daniels' performance also continue a recent trend: He's scored in double-figures in each of the Huskies' last seven games after a late-season lull, catching fire just as UConn's title hopes took flight — a coincidence that's not lost on his teammates
"Teams can't just settle on Shabazz and Ryan," Giffey said. "A couple teams already trapped us, a couple teams tried to throw in a zone or something, and it's always important that other guys step up when they get trapped. We just found a rhythm where we share the ball tremendously and we play on a high level, on a high intensity level, and really try to make plays for each other."
Dustin Hogue had 34 points for Iowa State, which finishes 28-8.