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 the second half. He started to establish himself. That’s how you beat the zone, you get it at the high post and you make plays. Our guards started passing it in there and we started making shots. That’s what we’re going to need to do going forward so we will be able to play with a match?up zone. You never know what’s going to happen in the NCAA Tournament. Every coach comes with something new. I thought our ball was great and we started making shoots. We got 10 assists. Six in the second half, we got four in the first half, and that’s improvement. We’re going to go back and see who we going to play on Sunday. Then my coaching staff is going to have a great game plan and I know our guys are going to follow it and we’re going to go deep into this tournament. That’s our goal.
“They won the game. If you win by 10 or lose by ?? you win the game. Wasn’t any difference. We had that game by seven at Louisville and didn’t get it done. It’s a game of runs. We try to keep them at bay as much as possible but at the end of the day you gotta rebound and can’t give up 16 offensive rebounds and expect to win. I thought our defense was great in the second half where we held them down to 32 percent and we shot percent. That’s something we are going to look at on the tape and try to keep improving. I liked the ball movement and the competitive spirit. We could have gave in, but this team is not like that. We fought all year and I think they’re going to fight in the NCAA Tournament. I’m proud of them. We didn’t come down here just to win a semifinals game. We came down here to win a championship. It didn’t happen but I think our guys gave it their all and they play with their hearts and that’s all I ask of these guys each and every day.
“Yes, Louisville is playing great basketball. They won the championship last year, they went to the Final Four the year before, and they got pretty much their whole team back. They’re an experienced bunch, they play hard and they’re well coached. But you know how this tournament is one-game elimination, somebody can get hot and hopefully that team will be us and we will get hot and play together.”
On the American Athletic Conference, Louisville leaving, the future, etc.
“I just play who is on the schedule. We would have liked to have won this championship game but if Memphis was in the championship game, don’t matter to me. I just make sure we worry about us and that’s our main goal. I wish [Louisville] the best of luck in the ACC and this American conference is going to be great. I like what Tulsa is doing, they made it into the NCAA Tournament and congratulations to Danny Manning and this conference is going to be great. We are going to continue to hopefully be at the top of this league and keep it going. We are just going to play the right way and hopefully have everybody come in and do the same thing and make this league very viable, but I like what Memphis is doing and SMU is doing and this conference is going to be great.”
Shabazz Napier on the double-technical: “[Chris Jones] hit me in my mouth with his elbow, and I just moved his hand.”
Rick Pitino says Louisville should get a No. 1 seed, but probably won’t. How often is Rick Pitino wrong? The RPI is the problem for the Cardinals, not who they played or how they’re playing now.
I voted for Montrezl Harrell for tournament MVP – nobody, certainly not UConn, had any answers for him. He just dominated. I also had Niels Giffey and TaShawn Thomas on the all-tournament team, but other media members didn’t agree with me. I will say I did get some expert input from the gentleman to my right on press row.
Russ Smith ended up with Louisville’s all-time record for steals. He is really a great defensive player.