STORRS – The Huskies practiced long and hard on Monday afternoon, and Kevin Ollie was in a good mood when it was done.
“I love this postseason,” he said, “I love this team. I love the way they bounced back today. We went a little longer and they responded. I was proud of them today.”
The Huskies were trying to work off the lingering “bad taste” of the 33-point loss at Louisville on Saturday. They’re heading to Memphis for the first American Athletic Conference Tournament, and start off as the No. 4 seed, playing the host school on Thursday night.
“It’s a new day,” Ollie said. “It’s our fourth season. We had preseason, out-of-conference and conference. Now this is our fourth season, everybody is zero-and-zero. We had a great season, 24 wins, seven losses is a great accomplishment and a testament to how hard they played.”
UConn has beaten Memphis twice this season, by 10 points at Memphis’ Fed Ex Forum, where the Tigers have since won nine in a row, and at the XL Center in a grueling OT game on Feb. 15. “Those were two totally different games,” said Ollie.
The Fourth Season, unlike the first three, leaves no room for bouncing back. One loss in Memphis, and the Huskies come home. One loss in the NCAA Tournament which lies beyond and they come for good.
“The way I explained it to [the younger players],” Shabazz Napier said, “when you’re growing up and you’re on the playground – five on five, there are about 20 people waiting. If you lose that game, you’re not getting back on the court. Think about that, you want to stay on the court as long as possible. If you lose that game, you get to stay home and watch on TV and nobody wants that feeling.”
Ollie: “There is no reason not to believe. These guys got the mindset they can get it done. I know these guys are hungry for that. They thought they should be a postseason team last year, they couldn’t go, this is a new year.”
Jim Calhoun, who made the trip to Louisville and say behind the UConn bench, offered some advice to his successor. “If you coach long enough you’re going to go through a game like that,” Ollie said, “that’s what The Big Kahuna told me today.”
Calhoun will be sharing his thoughts on local TV on Tuesday. He will be the guest co-host on WFSB-TV’s Better Connecticut at 3 p.m. Calhoun will be subbing for Scott Haney, hosting with Kara Sundlun, on Channel 3, and excerpts of the upcoming documentary on his life will be shown during the telecast.
The Huskies loss at Louisville didn’t hurt them much in the polls or the RPI. The Huskies dropped two spots in the AP writers’ poll, to No. 21. All five of the top AAC teams remained in the poll.
In the USA/Today coaches poll, it was the same, two spots down to No. 21.
The Huskies, despite the loss, gained a slot in the RPI and were 28th in the update released Monday by the NCAA. All the polls are here.
Shabazz Napier made the AAC’s Honor roll for the eighth time this season. Sean Kilpatrick, his rival for the league’s player of the year award, was Player of the Week for the third time. Napier has been player of the week five times.
Napier on the award:
“I don’t care,” he said. “I’m more invested in winning championships. I’m not into individual awards, you all know that. I think Sean Kilpatrick played real well, but he had a lot of help with Juston Jackson being most improved. I think Russ Smith definitely played well. And Nic Moore, as well, he definitely turned that team [SMU] around.”
Memphis really out-ran UConn with its four guards in the OT game at XL. You wonder if Terrence Samuel’s recent emergence and the three-guard lineup for defensive harassment could come into play this time.