Category Archives: American Athletic Conference

UConn 60, Michigan State 54: Wrapping Things Up At The Garden

by Categorized: American Athletic Conference, DeAndre Daniels, Jim Calhoun, Kevin Ollie, NCAA, Rip Hamilton, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, UConn men's basketball
Date:

NEW YORK – What a day, what a weekend, what month.

What a ride.

I asked UConn fans via twitter if they would rather be in the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Final Four. Most who answered didn’t get it, but a few did.

The point being, quite frankly, the UConn brand endures. Kevin Ollie has been promising that, and his promises have a way of being kept. The Huskies will raise a banner of some kind when they come back to Gampel, as he promised. They are back in the Final Four, waving their “Amercian” flag, as Ollie said.

Conference affiliation matters, it matters in recruiting, it matters in money. But getting t the Final Four and winning it is about who you are. The Huskies had what it took, even if the AAC didn’t impress the selection committee.

It was joyous, the nets coming down, the celebration on the floor. The crowd was phenomenal. Players were wearing bits of the nets they cut down tied to their hats as reporters entered the locker room. The former Huskies were sharing in it.

Unforgettable day.

Here’s some Kevin Ollie at the podium:

   “It was just a great game plan.  Our players, our student?athletes executed the game plan perfectly.  My coaching staff came up with a great design out there and the defense was amazing.  It was great to get off to a great start, and we wanted to fight.  We wanted to throw the first punch and I think we did that.  At the end of the first half we had a lull, and then in the second half we turned it on.

                “It started with ball pressure with Ryan Boatright picking up, then everybody denying Harris, because Harris got off on us the second half.  And we started having our attention there.  Shabazz did a great job, and then our bigs did an exceptional job.  Phil Nolan came in and give us huge minutes.  DeAndre was on the string and then didn’t let Dawson go off any.

                “It was just an amazing feeling to do it in Madison Square Garden, and for the NCAA not to be here for 50 years and then we come out and we win it, it just puts a great bow on this gift.  And we’re going to unwrap it again and we’re going down to Texas.

“We’re going to see where it takes us.  We play a great Florida team and we’re going to be well prepared, because I know about these guys’ heart, and that’s what got us through, it was a heart of a champion, heart of a lion and I love these guys.

“You can’t take it for granted.  I thank Coach [Jim Calhoun] for giving me this opportunity.  I knew what I had, though.  I had faith in my players, I had a great coaching staff, two of my coaches coached me and got head coach experience, and my belief in God.  I knew God was going to give me a way out of no way.  And I thank Him for this opportunity.  I thank Coach for always being there.  I thank my AD and my president, that gave me an opportunity and signed me for that one?year deal and then extended me during the season and their faith in me.

                “I just want to make these kids better people.  If we can do that and win a National Championship on the way, that’s good.

“We got a lot of great fans out there and we got a lot of great student?athletes that came through UConn.  You can see everybody come back Andre Drummond, Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Richard Hamilton, even players that you don’t even know in the NBA.  It’s a big family.  And that’s what Coach created and I’m glad he passed me the baton, and I’m just trying to run on it and try to still create that environment, because it’s all about family with UConn.

“[The Huskies] did a wonderful job.  Yes, Big?10 is known for that, but American Conference is known for it, too.  And we got our American flag waving out our window going down to Texas.  And we’re going to keep it up high, and we’re going to keep playing the right basketball.

                “We’re physical, too.  Don’t get it mixed up.  We are predators out there.  And we’re going to go in and we’re going to do a great job.  We’re going to not only use our physicality with our muscle, we’re going to use our physicality with our mind.  I think that’s what we did tonight.  When they were physical, we played the right type of game.  We made hard cuts, we were going downhill, we shared the basketball.  And then when we get up to the free?throw line, that’s our toughness.

                “It doesn’t have to be a wrestling match.  We use our toughness mentally.  I think we put on the board ‘concentration and mental toughness’, and that’s what we had today.  Because concentration, if you go 18?for?18 in the second half, you got to be mentally tough.  And that’s what we have been doing if you’ve been watching us.  And we get up to that free?throw line, we knock them down.

 

“Madison Square Garden is a great place.  I don’t care if you ?? now from here whenever I walked in here in the NBA.

 “It’s always in the back of your mind and thinking about certain things, is this the right job?  Should I stay in the NBA?  You have those thoughts going on in your mind.  But at the end of the day I wanted to be close to my family and I wanted to come back to my second family, which is my UConn family.  And just to be around Coach all the time and him believing in me, even before this coaching thing, even as a 17 year old and believing in me that I could be a point guard.  And passing up on a lot of guards to have me come way from Los Angeles to Connecticut is like unbelievable.  And he always believed in me from day one.  And I thank him to death for it.  And that’s what I told him in his ear.  ‘Thank you for believing in me.’

                “And you know what, I can do this job, but I need a lot of help.  It’s not just a one?man show.  That’s why I got a great coaching staff, that’s why I got great players, and that’s why I want to just keep forging on and keep building.  Don’t lay on your success.  Keep building on your success.  I think we’re doing that and we are going to enjoy a trip to Texas again.

“That was just a great experience.  It’s a great time when you can get on that ladder, but I was really taking my time.  One step at a time.  And that’s what you got to do to get up top of the ladder.  You can’t skip no steps.  And the last two years we didn’t skip no steps.  We took one step at a time.  I he keep telling you that and that’s what it’s all about.

                “Guys believe.  They didn’t get out of their roles and they believe in each other, and we call it something called Level Five and that’s a championship mentality, and if we can have Level Five all the time, and not only on the basketball court, in the classroom, too, we’re going to be fine.

                That’s what we try to strive for each and every day to have that Level Five and play for one another and play this game the right way.  The right way is believing in what’s on your chest, on your chest and not what’s on your back.  We don’t play for what’s on the back of our jersey, we play for what’s on the front.  And it’s a great, great school that’s on the front.”

 

*****

Shabazz Napier was the Most Outstanding Player of the Regional. He averaged 23.3 points per game in Buffalo and Manhattan. DeAndre Daniels was also on the all-Regional team, along with Adeian Payne, Gary Harris and Duston Hogue.

Napier has now played in 141 games, a UConn record. He scored 1,925 to pass Ray Allen on UConn’s scoring list.

****

I messed up on Twitter. I thought Tom Izzo said he called timeout to give UConn fans a chance to enjoy the moment. He said he DIDN’T call timeout for that reason, but to convey something to his younger players. Want to set that straight. Here is his quote.

 “ Sometimes you got to pay the price of the process and sometimes ?? the reason I called timeout with six seconds left, it wasn’t so that the UCONN fans could really enjoy it a little longer.  I just told our underclassmen and that, that I didn’t think ?? we had a couple stretches where we didn’t bring it, but we did and I don’t want to ?? don’t trademark the line, but out?of?body experiences, a couple times I came out of the huddle and I was shaking my head, like I haven’t seen this before. Sometimes that happens with pressure.  Sometimes it happens with fatigue, and I just wanted our team to capture the moment and learn from it, so next year we can be better at what we do.”

 

****

All kinds of stuff from Paul Doyle, Jeff Jacobs, Rich Messina, Brad Horrigan and myself going up on our site throughout the night. Rich Coppola will have lots on FoxCT tonight, do check all that out.

… Well, I’ve done eight Super Bowls and 10 World Series for The Courant, never a Final Four. Glad to be adding that to my career. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some travel arrangements to make!

UConn Men Vs. Iowa State: Setting The Scene At The Garden

by Categorized: American Athletic Conference, DeAndre Daniels, Kevin Ollie, Lasan Kromah, NCAA, Niels Giffey, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, Tim Abromaitis, UConn men's basketball
Date:

 

 

NEW YORK – We are looking live at the Mecca of Basketball, the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden. NCAA Sweet 16.

It has been home of some of the greatest events of the 20th and 21st Centuries, and tonight it is home for UConn men’s basketball. The Huskies and Iowa State are about 45 minutes away, and we set the scene. The players had a shoot-around here earlier today, and were just on the floor warming up. They’re back in the locker room now.

The UConn Pep Band is making its way into the arena and to their seats, to a round of applause

I was in the city today, but I’m told trains from New Haven on into Grand Central were packed and loud. The arena is teeming with New York media big wigs – or, to quote Mel Brook’s line from The Producers, “the toast of society is burning tonight.” I passed Jim Calhoun and John Thompson on the way to my courtside seat.

Thanks to Joe D. for having me on the WTIC-AMm 1080 pregame show, always a pleasure.

The Huskies will stay with the lineup they’ve used since March 13: Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, Continue reading

On To The Garden To ‘Take Care Of Business;’ Wrapping Things Up In Buffalo

by Categorized: American Athletic Conference, DeAndre Daniels, Jim Calhoun, Kentan Facey, Kevin Ollie, Lasan Kromah, NCAA, Niels Giffey, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, Terrence Samuel, UConn men's basketball
Date:

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Snowing like a son-of-a-gun as we pull out of town on the Amtrak early Sunday morning.

 It’s a good time to be getting out of Buffalo.

It’s especially a good time if you’re the Huskies, who came, saw, survived and advanced to New York.

“We call The Garden our second home,” Ryan Boatright said, “because when we go there, we take care of  business.”

The business will be difficult, no matter who UConn finds in the Sweet 16, but there will be plenty of time to talk about that. Right now, they can bask in the glow of a job well done.

The 77-65 win over Villanova was a truly impressive performance in every way. UConn’s defense kept the Wildcats tossing up three pointers, and the offense got it done. Shabazz Napier, despite the foul trouble, was 9-for-13 and scored 25 points in 25 minutes. “Napier was just awesome,” Jay Wright said.

The 16-1 run while Napier was on the bench was as impressive as anything the Huskies have done all year, and the rebounding and ball-hawking were outstanding, after a tentative first few minutes.

Villanova, on the other side, really turned out to be a paper tiger. If the old Big East were intact they would not have had anywhere near the 29-4 record they did, or the seed they got.  UConn outplayed them, outscored them  68-46 over the last 30 minutes or so.

Due to the lateness of the game, your newspaper has our first version of the game story, with no quotes. The final version went online about 2 a.m. – here it is.

Now, on to Kevin Ollie at the podium.

“Great game by our guys.  They showed some resiliency.  They showed toughness, and they just played with a will. When Shabazz went out, guys stepped up, and that’s what a team is all about.  Then in the second half, he scored 21 points for us. But everybody was strong.  Everybody rebounded the basketball, and we just played together.  It was a gutty win. We’re going to the Garden.  We just love to plant seeds.  We’re going to keep planting seeds there.  We’re going to keep playing together and keep caring for each other.”

“I’ve seen a lot.  I’ve seen us being great for three.  When we called great for three, it’s not enough to go two slots.  We have to go the third slot.  They was penetrating and going out and getting easy threes.  So we wanted to run them off the three?point line.
“I think when Shabazz got his foul, his second foul, we started really turning up the defense another notch with him on the bench.  It’s nothing against Shabazz, it was just we got to take this moment.  The game is right now.
I think once they took Shabazz out on this last play and he hit three and was up nine, we went on a 16?1 run.  It was just a great run by us with our leader on the bench.  But that just shows you what kind of team we’re made out of.
“Everybody talks about we’re not deep, we’re not this, we’re not that, but we’ve got heart.  Every guy that comes in on the court, they stay positive, and they stay productive.
I’m going to keep saying the same thing.  That’s what our guys do.  That’s how we’re built.  We’re UConn made.  We’re UConn made through and through.  And every day we come out there and play with that toughness and play with that heart.”

 

“[Napier’s] just tough?minded.  A lot of things he’s been through in life made him that way.  His mother Carmen is one of the toughest ladies around, and he’ll be the first to say that, how he was raised and what she had to do to keep their home together, and I think he gets that toughness from her.
“He goes out there and plays.  I told you on many occasions he does whatever we need to win.  If that’s scoring a scoop shot, that’s being my unpaid coach for 12 minutes, you know, that’s what he does.”

“We’ve been telling Terrence [Samuel] and all of our guys, you’ve got to recover quickly.  For me, I’ve got to be positive over there because they’re looking at me, and I have to have the right body language when he makes a mistake. That’s what I try to do with Terrence.  He’s going to be a great player for us.  He’s maturing right now.  Like I told him, once he stepped on the free?throw line the last game, he’s not no freshman no more.  You’re all sophomores.  This is the big stage, and they’re stepping up and playing wonderful basketball.”
“Things you don’t see.  I keep telling you.  They work hard in practice.  Kentan [Facey's] working hard.  You don’t see it, but he’s working hard.  All our guys have that passion and that want to get better.  We tell our guys, every time you step on the court, Try to do something better.
Terrence is maturing, and he’s a great competitor, but he’s also a great teammate.  He’s going to be a great basketball player for us and a great student?athlete for the University of Connecticut.”

“I just explain, we plant seeds.  We plant seeds every day in practice.  Sometimes you’re not going to see them growing the first day or first two days, but sooner or later, they’re going to grow.  That’s what they do each and every day.”
“Lasan [Kromah] has been working hard.  He does different things for us to win.  You know, against Saint Joe’s, he played tremendous defense on Galloway that last possession.  We just want our guys to be solid, just continue to play their role, be solid, and just contribute in so many different ways.”
“You don’t have to be a great player all the time, but you can always be a great teammate.  That’s what we try to strive for all our guys to be great teammates on and off the basketball court.”

“[When Shabazz went out], I just believed in my team.  I’m hurting for him because I don’t want him coming out of the game.  But like they just said, we’ve been hurting a lot, but we stayed here.  We’re hurting, but we’re still here.  That’s our motto.  We’re going to be here.  We’re going to stand up.  We’re going to say I’m present.
If Shabazz is on the bench, we’ve got to keep going forward for him, and we got to uphold each other.  I think that’s what we did.  Then Shabazz got back in.  I knew he’s a tough player.  He’s going to get back in there, and that’s what he did, and he led us to victory. “
“He was just unbelievable that second half.  You know, 21 points, crucial threes, dagger threes.  You know, it looked like he was 30 feet out and just making them with all the utmost confidence in the world.  Great game by him.
But it was a great thing, when he’s on the bench, our other players can step up and provide a great spark for us.”

“I just want to keep riding Uncle Mo.  That’s the momentum.  Wherever it takes us, it’s going to take us.
We got to stay together as a team.  We can’t get drunk off success.  We got to make sure we understand we go back to work on Monday.  Give the kids the day off and then go back to work.  We see who we’re playing, and we’ve got to prepare.  That’s what we need to do, and whatever happens is going to happen.
We’re going to write our own story.  We’re not going to let anybody write it for us.  We’re going to continue to learn and grow and appreciate this journey that we’re on.”

****

Here is Jeff Jacobs take on the game, and pics from Steve Dunn.

****

Some player quotes, from the podium and the locker room, which was fun to work at 1 a.m..

From Shabazz Napier

On his injury:   I was trying to get open for the ball, and I think it was Hilliard was playing me aggressively.  I just tried to make a move, and he kind of kicked me or kneed me in my shin area.  The pain was just excruciating.  I couldn’t really put pressure on it.
Continue reading

UConn vs. Villanova: Setting The Scene In Buffalo

by Categorized: American Athletic Conference, Amida Brimah, DeAndre Daniels, NCAA, Niels Giffey, Phil Nolan, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, Syracuse basketball, UConn men's basketball
Date:

BUFFALO, N.Y. – We’re in the First Niagara Center, been watching Syracuse and Dayton having a terrible time offensively.

The UConn traveling party, players, coaches and staff, walked past me in the hallway as I made my way back to the work room. The Huskies had their game faces on, I assure you (I mean, whatever that is, coach Knight.)

Okay, Dayton beats the Orange in dramatic fashion, the Huskies are about to take the floor. We’re maybe 25 minutes away. … Let’s set the scene at 9:30 p.m.…

UConn is playing for its season tonight, in a couple of ways. They are battling Villanova for survival, to get to the Sweet `16. They are also playing for the perception of the season. If the Huskies reach the Sweet 16, then whatever was to happen in New York next week, the season would have to be considered an unqualified success. No one can quarrel with 24-7, no one can quarrel with reached the AAC final and losing to Louisville, and no one could quarrel with being one of the last 16 standing.

If the Huskies lose, you could say they fell came up a tad short. Past UConn teams, it seemed, always went as far, and usually a step or two further, than they were expected to go in March. That’s the history. That’s the standard.

These two teams, Villanova and UConn, are more evenly matched than the No. 2 vs. No. 7 seedings suggest, IMO.

Same lineup UConn has been using since March 13 – Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels, Niels Giffey, Phil Nolan. … Amida Brimah, off his clutch play against St. Joe’s, will probably be in before long. By not starting him, it keeps him from getting a foul in the first minute. If there’s a change, we’ll update.

Villanova’s usual lineup: James Bell, JayVaughn Pinkston, Ryan Aarcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu, Darrun Hilliard.

The refs are Jamie Luckie, Antinio Petty, Kip Kissinger

Look for Josh Hart, who played very well off the bench in the Wildcats first game, to get in there quickly tonight.

 Programming note: With the late start, and early Saturday night newspaper deadlines, I will not be able to do as much on twitter as usual, but I’ll do what I can on that front. (@AmoreCourant and @JacobsCourant are our handles.)

UConn Vs. Villanova, Kevin Ollie, Jim Calhoun, Notes and Quotes From First Niagara Center

by Categorized: American Athletic Conference, Amida Brimah, Big East, DeAndre Daniels, Jeremy Lamb, Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Kemba Walker, Kentan Facey, Kevin Ollie, Larry Brown, NCAA, Niels Giffey, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, Terrence Samuel, UConn men's basketball, Warde Manuel
Date:

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Let’s start with the “news of the day.”

Is Jim Calhoun going to coach Boston College? I don’t believe so. Will he coach somewhere? I wouldn’t bet against that, would you?

It is hard to imagine Calhoun severing his ties with UConn, a school that named a street after him. He has the run of the place, and can do what almost anything he wants. … Almost.

Let’s face it: every great coach misses it after retirement, and many come back. Sometimes it’s a mistake, but it happens. Where do we start? Vince Lombardi came back after a year to coach the Redskins. Bill Parcells came back multiple times. Red Holzman came back. Earl Weaver, Jim Leyland. You think  there’s a chance Phil Jackson, whatever his title, will end up on the Knicks bench? This list goes on and on. Bill Snyder. Bud Wilkinson. Dick Vermeil.

As he neared 70, Joe Torre flirted with retirement each year but would always say, “I don’t want to miss out on any fun,” and he’d come back. Jim Boeheim expressed similar sentiments today, that he won’t retire until he is sure he is ready, because every coach he has talked to misses it.

The attention Larry Brown has gotten at SMU clearly intrigues Jim Calhoun, and it could also intrigue a school out there, one that needs to be put on the map. A school like that would love to have Calhoun for however long they could get him, and gladly take whoever he’d want as a designated successor.

I’m not saying this is going to happen, I’m saying don’t be shocked if it done, because this type of comeback has happened a hundred times before. When coaching is in the blood for 40 years, it never completely gets out. And Calhoun is tanned and rested.

Here is my story on it for the Saturday Courant, and Jeff Jacobs’ take on it.

                                                                                   *****

Shabazz Napier said if Calhoun does come back, he’d apply for a job as one of his assistants some day. He was joking, but Kevin Ollie was serious when he said Napier could be a coach one day. Then he said he would fight Calhoun for his services.                                        ********

Ollie was exceptionally good on the podium today – relaxed, funny, charming.Here’s more from his press session, as we shift the focus back to UConn-Villanova and the NCAA Tournament:

“[Villanova’s] a great, amazing three?point shooting team.  I think they’ve taken probably, I think, top ten in three?point attempts.  I think they’re in the top five of made three?point field goal shooting teams.
So we’re going to have our work cut out for us.  We’ve got to run them off the three?point line.  We’ve got to play Pinkston down low.  He’s a great player also.  That’s what gives them their balance, and that’s what makes them tough to guard. Jay [Wright] does a wonderful job exploiting matchups.  So we’re going to have to be able to be matched up and play our type of basketball and just play with energy and passion.  Hopefully, we can come out with the win tomorrow night.”

“I don’t care who we’re playing. We want to get to the next round.  It’s great to see Jay [Wright].  It’s great to see a foe that we’ve had so many battles against.  Villanova’s a great team.  We’re going to go out there and play.
But we’re worried about and concerned about UConn and our keys to the Continue reading

UConn 89, St. Joseph’s 81 (OT) Wrapping Things Up At First Niagara

by Categorized: American Athletic Conference, Amida Brimah, DeAndre Daniels, Harvard Basketball, Kevin Ollie, Lasan Kromah, NCAA, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, Terrence Samuel, UConn men's basketball
Date:

 

First things first – UConn will play Villanova on Saturday in the late game at Buffalo. Syracuse vs. Dayton is at 7:10, Huskies-Wildcats will be after the conclusion, or about 9:30 p.m.

BUFFALO, N.Y – A reporter from Buffalo asked Phil Martelli if he ever stopped to think what a great basketball game he was involved in.

“I appreciate that,” Martelli said, “and if I worked for the network and I could care about viewership, I’d be cool about that. But it wasn’t so great.”

Reminds me once that the Raiders lost a close game on Monday Night Football, and after ward, Howard Cosell approached John Madden and said, “John, you gave us a great show …”

Madden responded, “A great show? A great show? That’s a game we just lost. Laverne and Shirley – that’s a show.”

The point being, the NCAA Tournament is filled with great games, games like Dayton-Ohio State and UConn-St. Joseph played at First Niagara on Thursday. The local folks got a great show for their money.

But those who participate are all about the winning and the losing, because a loss and it ends the season, a career if you are a senior.

“When you work hard for something and it goes down the drain, that saddens me,” Shabazz Napier said, after the Huskies finally outlasted the Hawks in OT. “I’m glad I came out on the other end of it. I just wanted to go [to St. Joe’s seniors] and show them my respect.”

Nice gesture by Napier, and a nice snapshot of what the NCAA Tournament is about. It’s dramatic, it’s emotional and Thursday in Buffalo was a good day, unless you were part of the Ohio State or St. Joseph camp. … Here is the game story for the Friday Courant.

Now, about the Huskies … They were outplayed pretty badly for much of the game, and they were outworked for rebounds and loose balls much of the time. But St. Joe’s had no bench, got into foul trouble and the players were out of gas. UConn was relentless down the stretch and in OT, and  earned the win.

“They’re not a 10 seed, and I don’t think we’re a 7 seed,” Kevin Ollie said. “But at the end of the day it’s about planting seeds …”

Yep, new Ollie-ism.

Here’s more of the coach’s take at the podium:

“First of all, I thought it was a great game by both teams.  Unfortunately, someone had to lose.  I’m just glad we came out on top.
The guys right here [Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels], they played hard.  They played with grit.  They played with grind.  At the end of the day, we wanted to outwork our opponent.  It took a little longer than I thought, but fortunately, we got it done at the end.
We started making plays.  It’s all on my players, and I thank them for having a great game for this great university.

“… It was a great win.  It’s for the university.  I love this university.  Those players right there, that’s what kept this university alive.  They could have transferred.  They could have done anything.
Like I said, they have even now faith.  Even now we’re going through a dark time, we’re Continue reading

UConn vs. St. Joe’s: Setting The NCAA Scene In Buffalo

by Categorized: American Athletic Conference, Amida Brimah, DeAndre Daniels, Niels Giffey, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, UConn men's basketball
Date:

 

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Huskies just jogged finished their warm-ups and jogged off the court, the start of their game against St. Joseph’s about 15 minutes away now.

Let’s set the scene at First Niagara Arena, as the UConn Pep Band did the national anthem honors. The building is about half full at the moment.

It has already been an exciting day of tournament action here, with Dayton upsetting “big brother” Ohio State in the first game. Kind of game that has made the tournament, and the first round, the unofficial national holiday that it is.

Vee Sanford’s layup with 3.8 seconds left won it for the Flyers, 60-59.

“It’s amazing the way that, defense has kind of been my thing, and it’s amazing how it’s going to end with a kid getting the game winner on me,” said Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, who was devastated. “Obviously, I think I knew he wanted to go right.  There’s so many things that are going through my mind right now that I wish could have gone differently, but they didn’t.  He made a big shot, made a big time play, and we couldn’t come back.”

Syracuse cruised in the other game, beating Western Michigan by 25.

So here we are, UConn vs. St. Joe’s,  the Huskies back where it started in 2004, with wins here against Vermont and DePaul.

The Huskies starting lineup is the same as it was for all three games at the American Athletic Conference Tournament: Phil Nolan, Niels Giffey, DeAndre Daniels, Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright.

Amida Brimah, Lasan Kromah come off the bench.

Starters for St. Joe’s are as expected – Langston Galloway, Ron Roberts Jr. Halil Kanacevic, Chris Wilson and DeAndre Bembry.

Your referees for the night are Antinio Petty, Jeffrey Anderson, Gary Maxwell.

The St. Joe’s Hawk has VIP status, we hear. We also hear he flaps non-stop during games. We’ll be on the lookout for that.

Maybe the Huskies got a break in being seeded seventh. As a No. 5, they might have drawn Continue reading

On Righting The Wrongs of 2012; Notes, Quotes From Practice In Buffalo

by Categorized: Alex Oriakhi, American Athletic Conference, Andre Drummond, Jeremy Lamb, Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Kevin Ollie, NCAA, Niels Giffey, Rip Hamilton, Roscoe Smith, RPI, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, Syracuse basketball, UConn men's basketball
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BUFFALO,  N.Y. – Wrapping up a long day at the arena with some notes, quotes and thoughts.

A recurring theme in the UConn locker room – and in any sport one does get a much better feel for a team by working the locker room – was the opportunity lost two years ago against Iowa State. That’s very much on players’ minds.

“We were talented,” Ryan Boatright said, “probably the most talented team in the country. But the chemistry wasn’t right. We weren’t together as a whole.”

That team had two lottery picks, Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb, and two other standout big men in Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith. But the pieces just didn’t fit together.

“I wasn’t the leader my sophomore year that I should have been,” said Shabazz Napier, who was in his first season as the starting point guard.”

Boatright was in and out due to the NCAA reviews, and Jim Calhoun was in and out due to the suspension and the illness. The team faded in February and was blown out by Royce White and Iowa State in the tournament. “You lose in the first round,” Boatright said, “and then we couldn’t play last year, it sticks with you.”

That, more than the perceived slight of the No. 7 seed, will be UConn’s motivation against St. Joe’s Thursday night. Here is our main advance for the Courant.

*********

Here are some excerpts from UConn at the podium:

Kevin Ollie

It’s just a great opportunity for us.  People see obstacles that we went through, I see opportunities.  We did a great job.  My guys stayed loyal.  We thought we’d be an NCAA Tournament team last year, and now we just took over that same mindset on into this year.
It’s always a players’ game.  They kept this university afloat when everybody else was Continue reading

Huskies ‘Back Where We Belong,’ Notes, Quotes, Thoughts from Selection Sunday at Gampel

by Categorized: American Athletic Conference, Amida Brimah, Big East, DeAndre Daniels, Kevin Ollie, Larry Brown, NCAA, Niels Giffey, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, Terrence Samuel, UConn men's basketball
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STORRS – It’s the most wonderful time of the year, if you’re a college basketball player. So that’s really what it was like around Gampel Pavilion a year ago, around the men’s program, at least. It was as if the holidays were cancelled.

The Huskies waited two years to unwrap their presents, so what did it matter that a No. 7 seed, a trip to balmy Buffalo and a matchup against a tough Saint Joseph’s team was stuffed in their stocking? It’s a “precious gift,” Kevin Ollie said.

So the Huskies did not come out of the bunker whining about seeding, respect. They were surprised at the way the American Conference got hosed, and felt badly for SMU, a team and coach they respect a great deal. But they embraced their own opportunity, as well they should.

Lots of content tonight and in the Monday Courant and on Courant.com and on FoxCT. You can the main story here, and Jeff Jacobs’ take here. This is Paul Doyle’s national overview.

And, of course, The Bracket.

 

Now, in their own words, here’s the stream of consciousness from Kevin Ollie and the players.

Ollie’s take:

“I’m happy with the seeding. You always want to get a [higher] seeding but I’m happy for our team. This is their prize for having a great season, for having a great postseason in the tournament down in Memphis.  Now we got to see what we’re going to do with our prize, and hopefully we can go deep in  this tournament.

“It’s been a great journey. There were some dark days there, but everybody in life is going to have dark days. I’m just so proud of the guys how they’re staying together and planting seeds. We just keep trying to do that. I was proud of the guys this week and I thought we got better from that Louisville game last week to the last three games that we played. I’m excited for this tournament, I’m excited for them. We’re back where we belong.

“I don’t know what  [the selection committee] criteria is, I never know. It’s always a little different every year. I feel bad for Larry Brown, not making the tournament. But I know him, and he’s working right now, getting his team ready for next year. They’ll probably be right back in it.

“Louisville, fourth seed, I mean,  you know, that team beat us three times. I think they’re one of the best teams in the country. But seeding doesn’t matter, it’s about what you do on the floor. Hopefully we can go to Buffalo and prove ourselves and hopefully get that first game and we could be playing an old Big East foe [Villanova] if we can get past St. Joe’s.

“I was getting a little worried. Back two years ago, we were like the first one picked. Man, we had to wait a little longer this time. But it was great, knowing what these kids went through last year, just to see your name up there.  Going to Buffalo. Warde [Manuel] was back there, I know he had a couple of smiles on his face. It’s going to be an exciting time for these guys and I just can’t wait to step on the court on Thursday and take care of this precious gift we got. I hope they understand that.

“I know Phil Martelli. He plays solid basketball, a nice tempo game. They’re an older group. They have almost five guys in double figures, the fifth guy is like nine points, and Langston Galloway is a great player. He’s shooting about 45 percent from the three-point line and they make almost seven threes a game. But they’re going to play calculated basketball, Phil’s been there for a long time, 300 plus wins there, and it’s going to be a challenge for us to get past them. But we’re ready for it.

“[SJU's big man Halil Kanacevic] It’s a different look, but we’ve played teams like that. Continue reading

Louisville 71, UConn 61: Wrapping Things Up In Memphis, On To The Big Dance

by Categorized: American Athletic Conference, Kevin Ollie, NCAA, Rick Pitino, RPI, Russ Smith, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, UConn men's basketball
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MEMPHIS – Okay, time to look ahead, not back. It is tournament time and the Huskies, after an empty end to last season, know they will be back.

“It’s a great thing to hopefully see your name being called,” Shabazz Napier said, “and with your teammates and everybody smiling and knowing we have a chance to hoist another trophy.”

The Huskies will experience that Sunday night as they watch the selection show. It looks like they’re going to be a No. 5 seed, they could play Harvard, they could play North Dakota State, they could go to Buffalo, Spokane, St. Louis, Orlando … who cares at this point? They’re going somewhere, and that’s what they all came to UConn, or came back to UConn or stayed at UConn to do.

They lost to Louisville again, and if they play them a fourth time, it would be hard to make an argument for things being any different. Louisville is just better right now, but the Cardinals are just better than all but a handful of teams. The UConn wins over Memphis and Cincinnati are the operatives here, they gave the Huskies their mojo back.

And with a 26-8 record, there’s no reason to be anything but confident. “If we get to Dallas, nobody’s going to be thinking about this game,” Ryan Boatright said.

Kevin Ollie: “We want to win a national championship. … We’re going to go deep into this tournament, that’s our goal.”

Here’s Kevin Ollie’s complete postgame take:

 “The first half we came out and established ourselves, we got down about 14 and anytime you spot a team like Louisville 14 points it’s hard to come back.  We did some good things in the second half.  I was proud of our guys that we kept fighting.  Now we go into the next tournament.  We want to win a national championship.  I still believe in this team, we got to clean things up but I like our execution in the second half and we got to show heart and compete and that’s what I like and hopefully it carries over to the NCAA Tournament.

“No, I’m not into moral victories, but I did like how we responded the second half, just with the ball movement we had, getting Amida going, he had 14 points, most of them came in Continue reading